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Barely Breathing

Rebecca Donovan

Page 1



  Six months ago, I was dead. My heart didnt beat within my chest. Breath did not pass between my lips. Everything was gone, and I was dead.

  Its not easy to think about, not existing?despite how much I fought to be forgettable all those years. So Ive chosen not to think of it at all.

  My therapist asked me to write down my thoughts and feelings in this journal. After months of avoiding the assignment, I figured I should try it once?then maybe I could finally get some sleep. Im doubtful, but Ill try anything.

  I dont honestly remember what happened that night. I get glimpses and moments of panic in my nightmares, but the details evade me. And Im not looking to fill in the blanks.

  I woke up in a hospital bed, barely able to talk, with dark bruises on my neck. There were bandages wrapped around my wrists to protect the raw skin. A sling supported my dislocated shoulder, and a cast concealed my ankle after reconstructive surgery. I dont know what I went through to end up that way. All I care about is that Im breathing.

  The police asked questions. The doctors asked questions. The lawyers asked questions. Whenever theyd start to talk about the details, Id close them off, or leave the room. Evan and Sara promised to keep the details from me as well. They werent there that night, but they were in the courtroom for the entire trial?as brief as it was.

  Carol. . .

  It’s so hard to even write her name. She pled guilty. I didnt have to see her. I didnt have to testify. I didnt have to listen to the witnesses’ testimonies. They summoned Sara and Evan, and I couldnt be there for that either?even though the lawyers requested my presence.

  And George. . . from what little I overheard, he was there that night. He was the one who called the ambulance. They didnt press charges. I begged them not to. Leyla and Jack need their dad. And now… Now I dont even know where they are. I hope they remember how much Sorry. I cant. It hurts too much to think about them.

  Sara and Evan have barely left my side since that night. Ive tried to assure them that Im okay, but they just have to look at the circles under my eyes to know that Im not. In truth, I dont want to be alone.

  There was some press, but it was a closed trial, and the records are sealed because Im a minor (Im pretty sure Saras father had some influence over that too) ?so there wasnt much for the papers to write about.

  The town exploded with news of the attempted murder, and you can only imagine what it was like to return to school, or to be seen anywhere in Weslyn. Whispers. Pointing. Eyes following me everywhere. Ive become a morbid celebrity?the girl who survived death.

  Even the teachers treat me differently, like they’re waiting for me to shatter. The small group that confronted me that day are especially wary. Their interference is what put the whole ordeal in motion. Theyd made a call to the authorities before speaking with me, and then called George when I left the school.

  Carol must have found out about their call to George, or maybe someone from the state contacted her to look into the allegations. Either way, she was desperate for me to disappear ?forever. But it doesnt matter what made her do it. She cant hurt me now.

  I do hurt. Im not going to deny that. Especially since no one will ever see this journal. My ankle will probably never be the same, and will remain a constant reminder of what I went through. I fought to recover, and despite the anticipated outcome, I returned to the soccer field four months later. At the beginning, I would cry in the shower after each practice and game. The pain was almost unbearable. But now I barely notice it.

  Nothing looks the same anymore. Nothing feels the same. Im not sure how to explain this to Sara and Evan. I dont know if theyd understand. Im not sure that I do.

  She wanted me dead.

  I keep telling myself thats shes gone. Shes in prison where she can stay for as long as forever, as far as Im concerned. But I dont feel safe. Especially when I close my eyes each night and shes right there waiting for me.

  I need to get out of Weslyn. Away from the stares. Away from the shadows that continue to haunt me. Away from the pain that paralyzes me when I least expect it. Six more months and all of it will be gone. I get to start again, with the two people I love most in the world.

  Then again, my life is anything but predictable, and a lot can happen in six months.

  1. Try Again

  It’s just a dream. I recognized the thought, trying to pull me out of the hands that drug me to the darkest depths of the water. But panic overshadowed the rational thought, and I kicked as hard as I could. It’s just a dream, my voice echoed through my head again, trying to wake me.

  I looked down into the murky water, my breath burning in my lungs. The hands were now long, jagged claws, and as I kicked, one claw pierced my ankle, anchoring me under the water. A dark cloud surrounded me as the blood oozed around its nails. I struggled against it, but it only tore deeper into me. A rush of air bubbled around me as I screamed in pain. I was about to inhale my death when something pressed against my face.

  It didn’t feel like a dream anymore.

  I shot up with a gasp, the pillow falling from my face. Disoriented and panting, I searched the room. Sara stood frozen by her bed, her eyes wide and mouth open.

  “I’m so sorry,” she muttered. “I thought I heard you talking. I thought you were awake. ”

  “I’m awake,” I exhaled quickly. With a deep breath, I pushed the panic away. Sara remained stunned even after I’d recovered.

  “I shouldn’t have thrown the pillow on your head. I’m really sorry,” she frowned guiltily.

  What are you talking about?” I brushed off her apology. “It was just a dream. I’m fine. ” After another deep breath to ease the shaking, I pulled back the covers. They clung to the layer of sweat covering my body.

  “Good morning, Sara. ” I said as normally as I could.

  “Good morning, Emma,” she finally returned, forced out of her guilt-ridden stupor. And just like that, it was over, thankfully. “I’m going to take a shower. We have to hurry. We’re leaving in an hour. ” She grabbed her things and disappeared.

  I’d been trying to prepare myself for this day for over a month. It didn’t matter. I was still freaked just thinking about it. And now it was here.

  I collapsed back on the bed and stared up at the white glowing skylights that lined the ceiling, the morning sun hidden behind the snow.

  I looked around the room that had no true connection to me?the large flatscreen hanging on the wall, and a vanity in the corner, lined with makeup that had seen way too many makeovers at my expense. There were pictures of laughing friends taped to the mirror, and vibrant art adorned the walls. No reminder of my life before I came here. It was the place where I’d been hiding ?hiding from the judgment, whispers and stares.

  Why was I here? I knew the answer. If I had the choice, I’d never leave. It’s not like I had anywhere else to go, and the McKinleys wouldn’t turn their backs on me. They were the only family I had, and for that I would always be grateful. But that wasn’t completely the truth. They werent the only family I had.

  So when the phone rang while Sara was in the shower, I sucked in all the courage I could gather, put the phone to my ear and said, “Hi. ”

  “Oh! You’re there,” my mother exclaimed, completely taken by surprise. “I’m so glad I was finally able to catch you. How are you?”

  “I’m fine,” I replied, my heart stammering in my chest. “Um, so you have plans tonight?”

  “Just a party with some friends,” she replied, sounding just as awkward as I felt. “Listen. I was hoping we could try, you know. . . I mean, I live pretty much in Weslyn now if you ever decide you’d like to. . . ”

  “Yeah, sure,” I blurted, before I lost my nerve, “I’ll live with you. ”

  “Oh, um, okay,” she responded in strained excitement. “Really?”

  “Sure,” I answered, trying to sound sincere. “I mean, I’m leaving for college soon, so better reconnect now than when I’m across the country, right?”

  She was silent, probably digesting that Id just invited myself to move in. "Uh, yeah, that sounds great. When are you thinking?"

  “Since I go back to school on Monday, how about Sunday?”

  “Meaning, this Sunday? As in, three days from now?” There was no hiding the panic in her voice. My heart skipped a beat. She wasnt ready to take me back, was she?

  “Would that be okay? I mean, I don’t need anything, just a bed, or even a couch. But if its too much. . . Sorry, I shouldnt have?”

  “No… no, that’s perfect,” she stumbled. “Um, I have time to get your room ready, so… sure, Sunday it is. I live on Decatur Street. I’ll text you the address. ”

  “Okay. I’ll see you Sunday then. ”

  “Yup,” my mother replied, the shock still lingering in her tone. “Happy New Year, Emily. ”

  “You too,” I returned before hanging up the phone. I stared up at the ceiling. What did I just do?! What was I thinking?

  I grabbed my things and walked past Sara into the bathroom, trying to control the panic rising inside of me. By the time I emerged, I had come to terms with it. It was what I had to do.

  “So, I have something to tell you,” I began, sitting on the stool next to Sara while her mother, Anna, poured herself a cup of coffee. “I spoke to my mother this morning. . . ”

  “It’s about time,” Sara interrupted. “You’ve only been ignoring her for like six months. ”

  “What did she have to say?” Anna encouraged, ignoring Saras outburst.

  “Well. . . I’m moving in with her this Sunday. ” I held my breath as I watched the news sink in.

  Saras spoon clanged inside the cereal bowl, but she didnt say a word.

  “What made you decide that was the best thing to do?” Anna asked calmly, diverting attention from Saras silent disapproval.

  “She’s my mother,” I shrugged. “I’m leaving for college soon, and I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity to try to fix us. I haven’t exactly been fair to her, and she keeps trying to connect, so I thought this was the best way to do it. ”

  Anna nodded, considering my explanation. Sara stood up and briskly walked to the sink to drop her bowl in, still unable to look at me.

  “Well, Carl and I will need to talk about it since we were given guardianship until you’re eighteen. And I’d really like to meet her before anythings final. Okay?”

  I nodded, not expecting Annas answer. I wasnt used to having a parent actually care about me, so I didnt really know what to say.

  “I understand why you want to do this,” Anna assured with a soft smile. “Let us just talk about it first, thats all. ”

  "Thanks," I accepted. "It would mean a lot to get to know my mother again. "

  Sara stormed up the stairs without a single word. I exhaled deeply before following her up the stairs.

  "Okay, say it," I demanded flatly while Sara shoved items into her overnight bag.

  "I dont have anything to say," Sara quipped. But she did; it just took a three hour car ride to the hotel and a day of primping before it came out.