Out of breath, p.10
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       Out of Breath, p.10

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 10


  I picked up the phone on the first ring a couple of hours later. Before I could ask how she was, she hollered, ‘He keeps calling me! What the fuck?!’

  ‘Did you talk to him?’ I asked cautiously, struck by the venom in her tone.

  ‘Hell no! He can’t call me the day the announcement hits the papers and expect me to listen to an explanation. Fuck that! I’m so pissed off, Emma. So, so pissed!’

  ‘I can hear that,’ I noted sympathetically. ‘And I understand. ’

  She continued as if I hadn’t spoken. I knew there weren’t any words to console her. She just needed me to listen, and that’s what I did, as helpless as that made me feel.

  ‘She’s some fucking socialite from New York. I don’t even think she went to college. How pathetic is that? What the fuck can he possibly see in her? I mean, she is, I guess, attractive or whatever, but what the hell? She has a jewellery line that she puts her name on and claims to be a designer. Yeah, right. I can’t fucking believe that’s who he’s marrying! What the –’

  Her voice broke off, indicating she was receiving another call.

  ‘Do you need to get that?’ I offered gently.

  She hesitated. ‘Omigod! He’s fucking calling again. I need to block his calls and emails, so I gotta go. I’ll call you later. ’ And then she was gone.

  Her raging fit, coupled with my role as the mute bystander, left me exhausted. I wanted her to feel better. To go back to the exuberant, energetic person I loved like a sister. Sara was stronger than I was, so I had hope that she’d recover from this. But wanting something didn’t always make it happen.

  Every choice had a consequence. I’d earned every aching beat that pounded in my chest.


  The sound of him calling me, lying battered and abandoned on the floor of my mother’s house, echoed within me. I was the only one to blame for my desolation.

  I looked down at my hands and flexed them. They still trembled ever so slightly. I closed my eyes, and the tears were there waiting, dammed by my lids. I clenched my teeth and breathed in quick bursts, demanding the numbness to return.

  ‘Em, we’re going for a run,’ Serena announced, poking her head in the door. I opened my glassy eyes. Without reacting to my tortured expression, she calmly directed me, ‘Get dressed and come with us. ’

  I didn’t argue, knowing the run would be more therapeutic than sleep.

  Meg was in the hall, tying her running shoes, when I exited my room.

  ‘Hey,’ she greeted with a comforting smile. ‘Get any sleep?’

  ‘Some,’ I responded. She didn’t mention the picture from The Times, which was no longer on my computer screen. I knew she’d closed it. Just like I knew that either she or Serena had picked up the photo that was missing from under my nightstand. I wasn’t oblivious to their protective gestures, even if we never talked about them.

  ‘How’s Sara?’ she asked.

  ‘Lethal. Jared better hope he never bumps into her. ’

  Meg smiled, probably picturing Sara in all her vengeance.

  ‘Ready?’ Peyton bounced out of her room, her blonde hair swinging in a ponytail.

  ‘Yeah,’ Meg and I answered in unison, following her as she hopped down the stairs.

  Serena and Meg were quiet during our run. I wondered if Meg had told Serena what happened, but I wasn’t about to ask. Peyton remained oblivious to the strained silence. She proceeded to recap the fraternity party she’d attended the night before, with detailed descriptions of how each room was decorated in a different book theme, with corresponding drinks.

  ‘I think I drank every book. ’ She laughed. ‘I mean drink. ’

  ‘Shocking,’ Serena scoffed. Peyton ignored her.

  ‘When are you going out with Cole?’ Peyton interrogated, jogging faster to catch up with my pace.

  ‘What?’ Her voice was droning in my head like a rhythmic buzz.

  ‘What’s going on between you two? I never got to ask you, what happened when you met him at Joe’s?’

  ‘Umm … nothing really,’ I said evasively. ‘It was … nothing. ’

  ‘Are you going to see him again?’ she pushed.

  ‘I … uh …’

  I couldn’t form a sentence, forget about a thought. I was concentrating on not collapsing and bursting into flames right there on the sidewalk.

  ‘Are you ever going out with Tom?’ Meg intercepted. ‘I mean, you two have been flirting for forever. Does he even have your phone number?’

  ‘Yes,’ Peyton snapped. ‘He has my phone number. We’re just … taking our time. ’

  I lengthened my stride and left them behind, pushing myself around the next corner until I was sprinting, needing to extinguish the inferno before it consumed the limited air I had left. Serena remained right behind me, her face set and determined.

  This only drove me to push harder towards the house, now in sight. My thighs screamed and my lungs burned. I let up and slowed to a walk after passing our front steps. Serena was hunched over with her hands on her thighs, sweat dripping down her flushed face.

  ‘Fuck, Em,’ she panted. ‘That was intense. ’

  I continued to walk around, taking long breaths, waiting for my heart rate to come down and the calm to take over. I closed my lids; the flames still danced beneath them, relentless, leaving me out of breath.

  ‘Serena?’ I said, frantic for relief.

  ‘Yeah?’ She sat on the bottom step with her elbows propped on the step behind her.

  ‘Will you do something with me?’

  She stood up. ‘Anything. ’

  ‘Will you go with me to get a tattoo?’

  ‘Today?’ she asked, her eyes scrunching ever so slightly to inspect the smooth expression on my face.

  ‘Yeah,’ I replied calmly. I knew what I asked her was drastic, but I figured if anyone would understand, she would.

  ‘Definitely. ’ She smiled brightly. ‘I would love to be there for your first tattoo. Maybe I’ll add one to my collection. ’

  ‘Thanks. ’

  After we’d showered and changed, Serena and I left for the tattoo parlour without saying anything to Peyton or Meg.

  ‘What are you going to get?’ she asked, the excitement dancing in her dark eyes. Her enthusiasm to be a part of this was exactly why I needed her to go with me.

  I pulled the paper out of my pocket and handed her a drawing I’d created about a year ago, when I was still fighting with the nightmares. I hadn’t sketched it with thoughts of having it permanently inked on my body, but it seemed appropriate.

  ‘Wow,’ she admired. ‘You drew this?’ I nodded. ‘I didn’t know you could draw. This is amazing, Em. But with all that delicate script, it’s going to take a while. Spider would be the best to do this. Where are you going to get it?’

  ‘Here. ’ I gestured to my left side, above my hip.

  She cringed. ‘That’s going to hurt like hell. ’

  That’s what I was hoping.

  I never made it to The Alley to meet Cole. I probably should have called him, but I didn’t. And he didn’t call me either.


  Worlds Collide

  ‘HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY?’ I ASKED Sara a week after our meltdown.

  When Sara ended her relationship with Jared the summer before she left for Paris, I knew she’d never expected him to move on, at least not like this.

  ‘Fuck him. He and his little skank can go to hell. I don’t care any more. ’

  ‘Um, okay. ’ I’d spoken to Sara every day since she’d discovered the announcement. She’d explored every range of emotion during that time, and this bitterness was the closest she was going to come to acceptance. I knew she didn’t want to talk about it. I could respect that.

  ‘So Jean-Luc and I are going to Italy next week for break,’ Sara revealed excitedly, as if we’d previously been discussing the weather.

  ‘Oh, okay,’ I responded, adjus
ting to the sudden change of conversation.

  ‘His friends have a place right on the water in this small village in southern Italy,’ she continued. ‘I can’t wait. I need to get away from the city for a while. Doesn’t your quarter end in a couple of weeks? What are you doing during the break?’

  ‘Uh, nothing. ’

  ‘Are the girls going away?’ Sara enquired.

  ‘Yeah, I think so,’ I tried to recall. ‘Serena’s going to Florida with her sister. Meg just started dating some guy a few weeks ago, and he’s taking her to Tahoe. And I’m not sure what Peyton’s doing, but she’s going somewhere. ’

  ‘So, you’ll be by yourself?’ she confirmed.

  ‘Yeah. ’

  ‘Are you going to be okay?’ I knew she worried about me. And I knew she and Meg talked about me more than they led me to believe.

  ‘I’ll be fine,’ I responded without conviction.

  The week of final exams for winter quarter, Peyton let herself into my room and plopped down on my bed to announce, ‘You’re going with me to Santa Barbara during break. ’

  ‘Excuse me?’ I spun around in my chair. ‘Why am I going with you to Santa Barbara?’

  ‘Because I don’t want to stay in my aunt and uncle’s place alone, and you don’t have plans, so you’re coming with me. ’

  ‘You’re not asking me?’ I clarified, recognizing that it had all been discussed and decided.

  ‘Nope. We’re leaving after your last exam on Thursday. ’ With that, Peyton bounced off my bed and left my room. I stared after her with a baffled look on my face. This had to be Sara’s doing.

  ‘Have so much fun!’ Meg gave me a hug before I ducked into the car.

  ‘And don’t let Peyton drive you crazy,’ Serena added with a taunting grin.

  ‘Screw you, Serena,’ Peyton shot back, her voice overly sweet but laced with a bite. ‘Don’t scare the little old ladies in Florida,’ she sang before rolling up the window. Her smile beamed when Serena flipped her off.

  ‘You two kill me,’ I laughed with a shake of my head.

  ‘Whatever,’ Peyton stated, driving away.

  I plugged in my iPhone and started scrolling through my music selection, finally settling on a playlist that I considered a compromise. Peyton and I preferred music at opposite ends of the spectrum. She didn’t complain, so I assumed she approved.

  ‘I know this isn’t the wildest spring-break spot, but I’m hoping we can find some decent parties,’ she said as she pulled onto the highway. ‘Especially if it’s too cold to lay out on the beach. ’

  ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do. ’

  ‘No … we will find something to do. Don’t think you’re getting out of partying that easily. ’

  I saw it coming. I knew she was going to expect me to go out with her. I sighed. A moment later, I asked, ‘How do you do it?’

  ‘Do what?’ she responded, obviously having no idea what was in my head.

  ‘Party like you do, play soccer and still maintain your grades. I mean, you’re pre-law. You have to be doing well. ’

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