Out of breath, p.14
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       Out of Breath, p.14

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 14


  I chose a box with a scenic mountainscape and sat down, pulling the coffee table until it was flush against the couch and spreading the pieces out before me.

  Cole emerged from his room smelling like a cool breeze, his wet blond hair swept back, like he’d just run his fingers through it to style it. I shifted my eyes down when he caught me looking at him and continued flipping the pieces picture-side up.

  ‘I haven’t done a puzzle in years,’ Cole said, standing beside me and picking up the box cover.

  ‘I’ve never done one,’ I admitted without looking at him.

  ‘Really?’ He sounded surprised. ‘Want help? Or do you feel like putting together a thousand pieces all by yourself?’

  ‘You can help if you want. ’

  Cole settled in on the cushion next to me with his legs crossed. He began separating the edge pieces from the middle pieces. When he leaned forward, his knee brushed my thigh, sending a shiver along my skin. Suddenly I wasn’t sure if this was such a good idea.

  ‘You okay?’ Cole asked, noticing my stiffened posture.

  ‘Uh, yeah. ’ I choked, coughing to clear my throat.

  ‘Want something to drink?’ He stood on the cushion and jumped over the back of the couch, so he wouldn’t disturb the coffee table.

  ‘Sure,’ I replied, taking the opportunity to shift further away from his side. ‘Whatever you have is fine. ’

  ‘Coke?’ he offered. I nodded without looking, concentrating on sorting through the pieces.

  With the fog veiling the ocean, we spent the afternoon shrouded in silence except for the music filling the room. We slid pieces around the table, working in unison without an utterance of communication. I was very aware of his every move. Heat floated off him when he reached across the space between us, his long, slender fingers connecting pieces, pausing to press the edge of one against his full lips as his eyes narrowed in contemplation, searching for its placement. The skin along my arm hummed when he’d brush against it, reaching around and over my hands as we shuffled through the pieces.

  ‘Hungry?’ His voice broke the stillness, making me jump.

  ‘Uh, yeah, I could eat. ’ I raised my arms over my head. My back was stiff from being hunched over for hours.

  Cole eased the table away and stood, stretching as well. His shirt crept up to reveal a hint of the defined muscle beneath. I caught myself and turned my head. I had done so well avoiding him, convincing myself I wasn’t interested in him, that I couldn’t be interested in him. But here I was, trapped in this house with him, and I was about ready to pass out from trying to control my involuntary responses. I needed to call Peyton and get the hell out of here.

  ‘Okay?’ Cole asked, pulling me from my escape plan.

  ‘Huh?’ I shot my head up, not certain what he’d said.

  ‘I asked if Mexican was okay?’ He paused to study me. ‘Are you sure you’re all right? Are you hungover or something?’

  ‘No, I guess I’m just a little dazed from staring at the puzzle all afternoon. Sorry. Mexican’s great. ’

  I went into the spare-bedroom bathroom to splash cold water over my face and give myself a moment to pull it together. Then I found my phone and sent Peyton a text. Can’t stay here. Come get me.

  She responded shortly after. Why? Are you fighting?


  Come on, Emma. One night. PLEASE!!!! I glared at her response and clenched my teeth in frustration.

  One night. That’s IT. Come get me in morning.

  Thanks!! appeared on my screen. I sat down on the bed, running my fingers through my hair. Maybe I should go to bed early. Like right after we returned from dinner. Which brought on a new onslaught of dread. What the hell was I going to talk to him about during dinner?

  ‘Ready?’ Cole called from the living room.

  I blew out a deep breath. ‘Yup. ’

  ‘So … you have four sisters, right?’ I asked after we’d placed our orders, hoping this would let him know that I was open to conversation. There was no way I could sit across from him in silence while we ate.

  ‘Yeah,’ he confirmed. He was quiet a minute, and then realized I was waiting for him to continue. He appeared … relieved. ‘Missy is the oldest. She’s twenty-seven. Then Kara is twenty-five. Liv is twenty, and Zoe is sixteen. Yup, five girls, plus my dad and me – it was very … dramatic.

  ‘But everyone’s all over the place now. Zoe’s with my mom in Seattle. Liv goes to Florida State. Kara’s in Oakland. Missy’s in DC, and my dad’s in San Diego. ’

  ‘All over the place,’ I confirmed. He nodded. I prepared myself for questions about my family.

  ‘Who’s your closest friend?’

  Not what I was expecting.

  ‘Sara,’ I answered easily. ‘She’s in Paris right now as part of an exchange programme with Parsons in New York. But she’s like an extension of me, more important than a vital organ. ’

  ‘Wow. That’s close,’ he noted with a rise of his eyebrows. ‘Does she ever make it out to California?’

  ‘Every break, except now that she’s so far away. But she’ll be here in May for the summer. ’

  He continued to describe his family, painting their charms and quirks so vividly that I could almost picture his sisters in my head. And I talked about Sara in so much detail that I could almost hear her voice. I missed her.

  ‘So Liv decided one day that she would be a vegetarian,’ Cole shared on the drive home, ‘except when we went to her favourite restaurants. And since my dad doesn’t cook, we ate out all the time, so every restaurant became her favourite, and essentially she isn’t a vegetarian. But if you ever meet her, she’ll say she’s a vegetarian, and she’ll give me crap for being insensitive if I don’t mention it. ’

  I laughed, thinking I would like this girl if I ever did meet her. We’d spent two hours at the restaurant, talking. I eyed the door of the house warily, my nerves twisting – because I actually liked talking to Cole. And worse than that, I liked him. And that couldn’t happen.

  I wondered why he never asked me about my family. Or about my behaviour at the party the night before. But I felt like I owed him some sort of an explanation, especially since he had escorted my drunk ass home.

  ‘I’m sorry about last night,’ I blurted out as he set his keys on the kitchen table. ‘I was –’

  ‘Coping,’ he finished for me. I laughed softly at his choice of verb. ‘You don’t have to explain. I kind of figured it out. ’

  ‘Oh, so you were listening,’ I teased, recalling his self-proclaimed talent.

  ‘I was,’ he confirmed without embarrassment. ‘And yeah. I got it. No worries. ’

  ‘I should probably fine-tune my coping skills and not resort to shots. ’

  ‘That’d probably be in your best interest. ’ He chuckled.

  ‘Well … thanks again for putting up with me,’ I replied seriously, meeting his translucent blue eyes.

  ‘You weren’t that bad,’ he responded, not looking away. Lingering a little too long.

  ‘Um,’ I said suddenly, breaking the connection and forcing a stretch. ‘Dreary days make me tired. I think I’ll go to bed early and read until I fall asleep. ’

  ‘Okay,’ Cole said with a slight shrug.

  As I was opening the bedroom door, I heard, ‘Emma?’

  I turned towards him hesitantly.

  ‘I’ve decided that you’re okay. ’

  My mouth quirked at his teasing tone. ‘So you don’t think I’m a bitch?’

  He smiled wider, his eyes lighting up. ‘I didn’t say that. ’

  ‘Nice,’ I jeered.

  ‘Goodnight, Emma. ’

  I bit my lip with a small smile. ‘Goodnight, Cole. ’


  Feeling Again

  I ROSE LATE THE NEXT MORNING. IT HAD taken me most of the night to fall asleep. All I could think about was Cole sleeping in the room across from me, and, well … that was all I
could think about.

  I took my time showering and getting ready, hoping Peyton would arrive any minute. I packed my things so I’d be ready to just grab them and go.

  Cole was on the couch when I finally opened the bedroom door. He was engrossed in the puzzle, which was only about a third complete.

  ‘Good morning,’ he said without turning my way. ‘I’m addicted to this stupid puzzle. Are you hungry?’

  ‘I can get something,’ I told him. ‘You keep at it. Do you have cereal?’

  ‘Yeah. But I have eggs and English muffins, if you’d prefer. ’

  ‘I don’t cook. ’ I opened the cabinets in search of a breakfast I was adept at preparing.

  Cole was quiet. Eerily quiet. I turned towards him and found that he was watching me with a curious look on his face. ‘You don’t cook?’

  ‘No. ’

  ‘Huh. That’s not what I expected. ’ He turned and went back to working on the puzzle. Why did this small fact continue to surprise most people who knew me? Dismissing it, I poured the flakes into a bowl and doused them with milk.

  I sat on the arm of the couch, eating and examining the pieces. Every so often, I’d notice a fit and lean over to put it in place.

  ‘You can sit down, you know,’ Cole encouraged.

  ‘Uh, I think Peyton will be here soon,’ I stated awkwardly, walking to the kitchen to set the bowl in the dishwasher.

  ‘No, she won’t,’ Cole countered.

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘She and Tom went to Catalina for the day. ’

  Panic began to rise in my stomach. That meant I was staying here … with Cole … again.

  ‘Come help me,’ he begged. When he noticed the pallor of my stunned face, his eyes tightened. ‘She didn’t tell you?’

  I shook my head.

  ‘If you don’t want to hang out, that’s totally fine,’ he said in a rush, trying to sound unaffected. ‘I mean, I was planning to go surfing in a bit anyway. ’

  ‘I’m sorry. ’ I felt horrid for not hiding my reaction. ‘I just had expectations, that’s all. ’

  ‘I’m not sure what that means, but I’m not insulted. ’ He smiled and turned his attention back to the puzzle.

  I took a breath and tried to relax. Approaching the sliding glass door, I strangled my hands, trying to decide what to do. I looked out at the hazy skies and knew it was too chilly to be comfortable sitting outside, at least not until the clouds burned off and the sun cut through.

  I climbed over the arm of the couch and crossed my legs beneath me, leaning as far away from Cole as possible.

  ‘What’s next on your list?’ he enquired, pressing the edge of a puzzle piece against his lower lip. And for that moment, I couldn’t focus on anything else. He turned his head towards me, and I tore my eyes away from his lips to meet his gaze. His eyebrows rose in expectation.

  ‘I don’t …’ I faltered. ‘I don’t know. How about you come up with something for me?’ And that wasn’t the best thing to say either.

  ‘What do you mean? I thought there was a list. You know, like a bucket list for the new year?’

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