Out of breath, p.11
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       Out of Breath, p.11

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 11


  Peyton chuckled. ‘Emma, just because you don’t see me study, doesn’t mean I don’t. You’re usually at the library anyway. I don’t have a perfect grade point like you, but I have no doubt I’ll get into law school. And it’s called balance. Ever heard of it?’

  ‘I may have heard of it. ’

  ‘Seriously, Em, I would die if I didn’t let off some steam during the weekends. I mean, soccer is what I do to help me stay focused, and we don’t get to go out ever during the season. School is a necessity to get what I want in life. So when I actually have free time, I want to have fun. You don’t have to get wasted and be ridiculous. This is college. I know I keep saying that to you. But when else will we get away with this? It’s the only time in our lives we aren’t judged for fucking up. It’s expected. ’

  ‘I think I have the fucking-up part perfected. ’

  Peyton laughed. ‘Give me a chance, and I’ll show you a side to college life you haven’t seen yet. I know there’s a part of you that’s actually fun. ’

  ‘Wow,’ I replied, feigning offence. ‘I’ve always wondered why we’re friends. ’

  ‘Because you can actually be pretty entertaining when you aren’t being miserable. ’

  ‘That was rhetorical, Peyton. But thanks. ’ I shook my head at her unfiltered honesty. A moment later I conceded, ‘Fine. You have a week. ’ I should have felt anxious agreeing to be a pawn in Peyton’s ‘balanced’ world. She was more dedicated to it than Sara had been. But then again, that was in high school, and Sara had limitations called parents. So maybe it was time I had some fun. I didn’t want to be miserable any more.

  ‘We’re going to a party tomorrow night,’ Peyton declared the next morning, before I’d even had a chance to have breakfast.

  ‘Wow. That was fast,’ I noted, searching the cabinets for a cereal bowl.

  ‘Tom told me about this party that’s happening down the street from him,’ she continued. ‘I guess these guys throw the best parties, and the family’s loaded, so sometimes hundreds of people show up. ’

  ‘Tom?’ I questioned. ‘I didn’t know he was going to be here. ’

  ‘He got here his morning,’ she answered casually, ignoring the edge to my voice. ‘We’re going to dinner tonight. It’s our first official date. ’

  I ground my teeth, trying not to show I was bothered by this revelation. ‘Where is he staying?’

  ‘In Santa Barbara,’ she answered, pulling a box of cereal out of the cabinet. ‘When the fog burns off, I want to get some sun. I don’t care if it’s a little cold. I cannot go back to school without any colour. ’

  We were staying in Carpinteria, a beachfront town about fifteen minutes south of Santa Barbara. Peyton’s aunt and uncle had a quaint three-bedroom house two blocks from the state beach.

  ‘Whatever. ’ Being agitated with Peyton was pointless, and too exhausting. I now knew that Tom was her motive for being here. I’d been dragged along as an obligation, but I wasn’t about to be the third wheel. I’d much rather sit around, look at the ocean and read for a week.

  And that’s exactly what I did when Peyton left for her date later that night. We’d braved the chilly temperatures on the beach for the afternoon and surprisingly walked away with pink cheeks and tan lines. Peyton was dedicated to sun worshipping, while I was fidgety, needing to get up and walk around every once in a while. Staying still for too long made the voices in my head restless, and that was the last thing I needed this week.

  I received a text from Peyton around midnight. Going to spend tonight at Tom’s. See you tomorrow!

  They’d been flirting for forever, so I wasn’t surprised they’d hit it off on the ‘first date’. But I was surprised that she was already moving in. I had a feeling that was the last I was going to see of her for a while.

  At beach w Tom. See you at party later. Use my car. WEAR A DRESS! was the text I woke up to.

  I don’t own a DRESS! I responded.

  I have plenty. Wear what you want. YOU WILL BE AT THIS PARTY OR I WILL FIND YOU!!

  It looked like I was going to the party after all, but … I was not wearing a dress. Peyton texted me the address and then disappeared for the day. I flipped through her closet, only to find form-fitting or barely-covering-my-butt dresses. Since I’d vowed to try to have a good time, I decided to drive to Santa Barbara to search the local shops for something that I could actually wear.

  I inspected the reflection of the girl in the full-length mirror. The white capris with the colourful embroidered halter top were fun and summery, even though it was not technically summer. The outfit highlighted the colour I’d picked up the past two days on the beach. I liked it.

  Liner accented the almond shape of my eyes, which were dusted with a soft neutral shimmer. I applied a layer of gloss on my lips and grinned at the feminine girl in the mirror. A complete contrast to the one who typically wore T-shirts and jeans and refused to mess with make-up. Pleased with myself, I grabbed my light blue cardigan, scooped up the keys to the Mustang and headed out the door.

  I’d spent the entire day mentally preparing for this. These people didn’t know me. I could be a fun, outgoing girl, and maybe even talk to people. I could fake it for just one night. What did I have to lose?

  I parked along the car-lined street and looked at myself one more time in the mirror above the visor. I connected with the brown eyes looking back at me. ‘Okay, Em. You can do this. You’re going to have a good time. Deep breath. ’ I flipped up the visor and inhaled, filling my lungs, and then exhaled quickly. I got out of the car and started walking towards the music with the droves of other partygoers, shifting my shoulders back, trying to appear confident – like I did this all the time. On the inside my heart was pounding frantically and I was afraid I might start sweating.

  As I neared the door, a group of girls stood in front of me on the sidewalk. I slipped in behind them, smiling like whatever they were saying was funny. They gawked at the large home. But I was unfazed by its grandeur, having seen similar houses where I grew up in Connecticut.

  There was way too much giggling within this group of girls. I wasn’t that good at faking it. So I headed downstairs while they continued into the open great room, their necks twisted awkwardly to take in the epic scale of the space.

  I followed the hallway past several closed doors until I entered a game room. It had the essentials all wealthy families seemed to have – pool table, foosball, large flat-screen suspended on the wall with an assortment of gaming equipment beneath. I went out the sliding glass doors and stepped out onto a patio that was crowded with even more people. Upbeat music echoed from speakers set around the pool, tiki torches blazed along the perimeter and I caught a glimpse of a bar on the other side of the patio.

  I eyed the plastic-cup-carrying multitude of scantily dressed girls – skin on display despite the chilly night – trying to locate Peyton among the blondes. But this was California, so that was a daunting task.

  I pulled out my phone to text her but couldn’t send; the estate, carved into the hills with the ocean in the distance below, apparently had made my cell signal sketchy.

  Instead of searching for the right spot to send the text, I headed towards the bar in hope of spotting Peyton. A guy in a multicoloured tropical shirt stood behind it. He paused a second after handing a beer bottle to the guy in front of me. I stepped up to the bar and looked behind me, confused by the recognition that flashed across his face. When I turned back towards him, he produced a charming smile and asked, ‘What can I get you?’

  ‘Vodka with something,’ I requested. Not expert enough to know what I liked, I decided to fall back on my mother’s liquor of choice.

  ‘I can do that. ’ He began scooping ice from a bucket. ‘Who do you know here?’

  ‘No one,’ I answered, fidgeting awkwardly. He kept looking at me with this ridiculous grin, like he knew an inside joke that I wasn’t privy to. ‘I’m supposed to meet a friend, but I
haven’t seen her yet. ’

  ‘Well, I’m Brent,’ he stated, holding out his hand for me to shake. ‘This is my friend’s place. I’m staying here with him and a few other guys for the weekend. ’ He handed me the drink.

  ‘I’m Emma. And now I know you. So if anyone asks, I’ll tell them that you and I are friends. ’

  ‘We are friends,’ he replied adamantly, as if this was a known truth. I wrinkled my brow at his peculiar answer.

  ‘I think I’m going to go find my other friend,’ I told him, glancing around the pool. I took a sip of the clear bubbly drink with a lime floating in it. It didn’t taste bad. I turned back towards Brent and asked, ‘What am I drinking?’

  ‘Vodka soda. I kept it simple,’ he answered while preparing a drink for a girl leaning against the bar. ‘I didn’t figure you for the supersweet girly-drink kind of girl. ’

  ‘Good call,’ I noted with a small laugh.

  ‘I will talk to you later. I’m not at the bar all night. We need to catch up, since I haven’t seen you in … ever,’ he stated with a gleaming smile. I nodded and couldn’t help but smile in return before walking towards the stairs.

  ‘Emma!’ I heard my name above the noise as I was midway up the steps. I tried to turn around, but was forced to keep moving up, caught in the line of people going into the house. I looked over the railing and spotted Peyton waving frantically below. ‘I’ll come up!’

  I moved to the corner of the large upper deck to wait for her. ‘How long have you been here?’ she asked when she finally made it to the top of the stairs.

  ‘Not long,’ I told her. ‘This party is pretty huge. ’ The crowd continued to grow around the pool, and inside it was packed with people dancing.

  ‘I know, right?’ she responded. ‘You look amazing. ’ I smiled uncomfortably. ‘But … that’s not a dress. ’

  ‘I don’t wear dresses,’ I told her. ‘Where’s Tom?’

  ‘Getting us drinks. ’ She nodded towards the bar on the patio, but it was difficult to spot him from the aerial view. However, she seemed to know exactly where he was. Her gaze lingered and her lips drew up dreamily.

  ‘I take it you had a great date. ’

  ‘You have no idea,’ she gushed. Then she waved, and I saw him nod his head in our direction.

  Tom handed Peyton a drink when he joined us and slid his arm around her shoulder. Peyton nestled into him, her arm snug around his waist. I tried to act casual, but the amorous energy they were emitting was making me uncomfortable.

  ‘So … Tom, I heard you’re staying in Santa Barbara,’ I finally said, feeling like I should say something to distract from the awkwardness.

  His eyes twitched slightly, and he looked down at Peyton. I heard her mumble, ‘I didn’t tell her. ’ I stared at Peyton, silently demanding her to spill whatever she was keeping from me.

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