Everything had happened so fast.
Matt had adjusted to his new job at Anderson Accounting. Everything had quickly become routine to him. In the morning, he would start the coffee machine, he would check emails, and he would do any basic cleaning that needed to be done. He would do data entry and answer more emails. Lunch. More data entry. It was, as he had predicted, not an especially exciting place to be an intern. It was good experience, he knew. Still, he felt himself willing the hours to pass so that he could see Emily again.
Alexandra graduated. The family was all together for her graduation. Mom had made a comment that it was the first night that the family had all been together for a while, but Matt hadn't replied, and she had left it at that. Joey, of course, had been the loudest and most enthusiastic and appiest cheerer in the whole ceremony. Alexandra had looked up at them and waved so enthusiastically at her younger brother that her cap had almost fallen off. Joey had stood up and waved back, and not even Dad had stopped him.
June had begun almost without his noticing. They had slipped into a new routine. Matt would go off to his internship until 5 pm. He'd come home for dinner, and then say he was going to see friends. He stayed out as late as he felt he could - usually around 9 - before slipping back home. Sometimes he would watch ESPN replayed with Joey. Then it was back to bed to start all over again.
That first month with Emily passed in an ecstatic rush. Every night after dinner, he would tell his family that he was going to see his friends, and then he'd drive to Emily's. Sometimes, she'd jog out to his car and hop in, then they'd go drive somewhere. Other times, her mom would be working late, and Emily would invite him in.
They started on the couch, but Emily got nervous that her mom would walk in, so they moved up to her bedroom where they would have more privacy.
"I'm not embarrassed of you - don't ever think that," she had assured Matt, touching his cheeks. "You're just the one thing that's mine, you know? I just want to be with you. I'm so happy with you."
It had been strange, but Matt supposed he understood; Emily didn't want their happiness to be spoiled.
"Maybe we could do something to cheer your mom up," he suggested. "We could make her dinner or something, when you're ready for her to meet me."
Emily had laid her head against his chest. "Yeah. That would be nice." Sitting up again, she added, "Just not too soon, okay? I like having you all to myself for now."
And Matt felt the same way about her. Though he would have been proud to show Emily off to his parents, for now, he just wanted to keep this to himself.
Especially since things were growing more and more passionate between him and Emily. They saw each other every night, and often, they would talk for over an hour. They would reminisce about the past sometimes, but more often, he told her about New York City, and she told him about something funny the animals had done that day at the store, or she told him about the times that her sorority sisters had done charity work together. It all made Matt fall more in love with her.
Every night, though, the talking turned into kissing. It would start out playful and sweet, but it always escalated.
He tried insisting that they stay in the car, even if Emily's mother wasn't home, but even if they did, Emily just shifted over the console into his lap. He gave up, because the car was uncomfortable anyway. So he tried just sitting in a chair by her desk, rather than sitting on her bed with her. His resolve didn't last with that, either; he ended up sitting on the bed anyway, then lying on the bed. Matt had always pulled away eventually, breathless and wanting more, but knowing that he shouldn't. He didn't know how much longer he could be that self-disciplined.
Everything had happened so fast.
One night Matt was sitting in a chair in Emily's room, telling her a story about going to Lake Michigan with Joey and Alex. Emily was on her bed, listening to him, and her eyes went soft.
"Matt," she said, scooting to the edge of the bed. "I have to tell you something."
Suddenly nervous, Matt swallowed. She wasn't about to break up with him, was she? They had been dating for a month now.
"Okay," he managed. "You can tell me anything."
She held his gaze. "I love you, Matt."
His heart racing, Matt felt a smile spread over his face. It was the first time she had ever said that. "I love you too, Em." He scooted his chair closer to her, and reached for her hands.
She laughed joyfully and leaned in to kiss him.
"You make me so happy," she whispered, leaning her forehead against his.
"I've loved you for a really long time," he said quietly, closing his eyes. "And I want to be with you for a really long time, too."
Emily pulled back a little, and his eyes opened.
"I want to be your boyfriend, Emily, not just the guy you sneak around with," Matt explained. "I want you to meet my family."
Nodding, Emily chewed her lip for a second. "I trust you," she said softly. "More than any guy I've ever known."
This stung Matt a little as she thought of Emily's dad. By that point, the divorce had been finalized. Emily had revealed that her dad had cheated on her mom. Matt knew that it hadn't been easy for her to tell Matt she loved him, especially even before he told her that he loved her.
Gently, Matt cupped Emily's face in his hands, and he looked into her eyes.
"I would never do anything to hurt you, Em. At least, not intentionally." He searched her gaze.
"I know." Emily leaned in and kissed him again, quick and sweet. "And I love you for that. So much."
Hearing her say that again gave Matt a thrill. He inched closer to her and kissed her softly. She kissed him back, at first softly, too, but then with more intensity.
He needed more of her; he moved closer, shifting onto the bed with her. And as they kissed, he thought less about his reservations, about his concerns, about the commitment he had made at age thirteen or fourteen to wait to have sex until he was married. He couldn't think about Emily, right there, right now.
Everything had happened so fast.
When it was over, and the gravity of what they had done hit him, he sat up against her headboard. He felt spent. He felt guilty.
"Emily," he started. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean…"
She moved to sit beside him, and rested her head on his shoulder. "Don't be sorry," she insisted. "I'm not."
Matt swallowed hard. All he could think about was that promise he had made in youth group, years ago, to wait until marriage. At the moment, he wasn't even thinking about why it mattered; he was only thinking that he had made it, and that it was wrong somehow for him to break that promise. After all, he hadn't just made the promise to a youth group leader; he'd made the promise to God.
Surely, God would understand, a part of him demanded. But he knew it wasn't true. For as good as he had felt a few minutes ago, now he just felt ashamed.
"There's nothing wrong with what we did," Emily said softly. "We love each other."
Matt didn't know what to say to that. Maybe she was right.
"I just always imagined that my first time would be my wedding night," he said quietly. "With a wife that I had promised to be with for the rest of my life."
For a moment, Emily was quiet. Matt knew he probably shouldn't have said that. Now there would be questions floating around: Did that mean he didn't want to marry her? Did that mean that he did? Neither of those conversations could be had right now.
"I'm sorry if I pushed you," Emily said finally.
"No - you didn't. Believe me," Matt said. Ruefully, he smiled. "I wanted it, too."
He leaned over to kiss her, just on her forehead.
"But we can't keep doing that," he said. Especially because everything had happened so quickly. It was his first time; he hadn't had protection. He didn't know if she had any. "I know you might not think it's wrong, but I do."
Softly, Emily sighed. "I don't know if I can resist you," she said with a small grin. "But I'll do my best."
Matt nodded, just a little. "Thank you." He felt quite the same way. But they had to try.
After a moment, he got dressed. He moved slowly. There was one thought that his mind had seized upon, and it wouldn't let go.
"Emily, are you, um…" He trailed off. "Are you on birth control?"
He had seen pills in the bathroom that he and Joey shared with Alex. They had always seemed mysterious and forbidden. And given that they were a Catholic family, they technically were forbidden; Mom had relented because they helped Alex with some health problems.
"No," Emily admitted. She had gone a little pale. "I'm still on my parents' insurance." After a hesitation, she corrected, in a different tone, "On my mom's insurance. But Matt, don't worry, okay? Nothing's going to happen. I'm supposed to start my period in a couple of days - I won't get pregnant."
"Are you sure?"
Emily nodded. "And we'll be more careful next time."
Though Matt was more reluctant than ever to leave, he knew that eventually he had to. He and Emily exchanged a few more kisses and a few more promises of love, and then he headed home. He hoped Emily was right.
At dinner the next night, Matt was counting the minutes until everyone was done eating and he could go see Emily. He wanted - no, needed - to talk to her. He wanted to make sure things were okay between them, and he wanted to prove to them that he could do what he thought was right.
While he was helping with the dishes, however, Mom sidled up to him.
"Let's go for a walk after dinner," she said, trying to sound casual. "Just you, me, and Tucker."
Matt placed the last dish in the drying rack, then toweled off his hands. "Yeah, okay. Let me just text my friends to let 'em know I'll be late."
Though Mom's smile faltered slightly, she said, "Sure. I'll just get Tuck's leash on."
They walked for a while in silence; Tucker was pulling happily at the leash, eager to smell every possible scent he could. No pole or fire hydrant was safe.
"So, how are things going?" Mom asked finally. "How's work?"
"The internship's fine," Matt said with a shrug. "It was really nice of them to have me. Everyone there has been great."
"Good. I'm glad that worked out so well. They're lucky to have you, Matt."
Though Matt didn't know about that, he didn't say anything. Mom tended to over-exaggerate his good qualities. She also tended to pry sometimes. He was strangely afraid that if he started to open up about Emily, he would start to cry. He could not, and would not, share about what had happened last night, even though a part of him wanted to confess it to someone, wanted to ask for help. Maybe Emily thought what they had done was wrong, but something in him knew that it was, if only because he had failed to live up to his own convictions.
Mom paused. "And how are your friends?"
"Just good?" Mom teased lightly. "You spend hours with them every day and that's all you have to say?"
She was smiling, and Mom tried to smile, too.
"Yeah, Mom. I don't know, they're just… good."
Mom sighed, and Matt braced himself, knowing that wouldn't satisfy her.
"I miss you," Mom said. "We miss you."
"I have work."
"I know, but you're hardly ever home now. And when you are, we don't see you. We just see the top of your head." She mimicked looking down at her phone and texting. "I miss seeing your face, Matt, and your smile."
Swallowing, Matt glanced down. She knew he was right, and he felt guilty for how much time he was spending on his phone. Still, it was one of the few times a day when he could text Emily, other than early in the morning and when he was on his lunch break. He knew he might be able to get away with texting at work, but he didn't want to risk it.
"I know your 'friends' probably just means one friend, and she's probably more than a friend," Mom continued.
Matt felt his face and neck heating up with embarrassment.
"And if that's true, believe me, I'm thrilled. But you can't throw all your energy into one person, honey. You have a family." Mom hesitated. "You're such a good brother. You used to spend time planning things to do with Joey. But your brother and sister have been out of school for weeks now, just waiting to hang out with you, and now they barely get to see you."
That hit Matt even harder. This was the first time Mom had ever brought something like this up. Sure, in high school, he'd had a lot of homework to do, and that had taken a lot of his time, but he had always made time for Alex, and especially Joey. She was right - he used to plan things to do with Joey. Now he just planned things to do with Emily.
"I know, Mom," he said finally. "I'm sorry." He bit his lip. "I'll take Joey fishing next week, just the two of us. And I'll stay home more. I'll leave my phone in my room."
Mom shifted Tucker's leash to her other hand. "Thank you, honey." She reached over to squeeze his shoulder affectionately. "I knew you would do the right thing."