Out of breath, p.15
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       Out of Breath, p.15

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 15

 

  ‘Not really,’ I confessed. ‘When you ask me, I just say the first thing that comes to mind. I never wanted to do those things until you made me say them. And then I actually wanted to do them. So I figure you can pick the next thing. It’s your fault I have the list to begin with, and you seem to always witness whatever it is anyway. ’

  Cole inspected me, uncertain if I was serious. Then he began laughing.

  And he kept laughing.

  ‘Stop,’ I demanded, trying to be upset as I shoved his shoulder. But the more he laughed, the more difficult it was to stay annoyed, and my lips eventually curled up. ‘Okay! Don’t choose. I don’t need to add to my stupid list anyway. ’

  ‘What qualifies?’ he finally asked after he’d gained control again.

  ‘Huh?’

  ‘What’s worthy of the list? What’s the criteria?’ he specified.

  ‘Well …’ I contemplated carefully for a moment. ‘It has to be something that gets my blood pumping, my adrenaline surging. ’

  ‘That’s a given,’ he goaded. I rolled my eyes.

  ‘It should be something that’s all-consuming and makes me forget everything else. Strips me of every thought and whisks away the pain. ’

  ‘Pain?’

  ‘I mean, uh …’ I cringed, silently cursing myself for being so honest, ‘anything that’s bothering me. You know, if I’m having a bad day and just need to forget about things. Something that makes everything go away. Make sense?’

  ‘I get it. ’ Cole’s eyes flickered across my face, like he wanted to ask me something, but he held it in. ‘I think I can come up with something. Give me time to think about it?’

  ‘Sure,’ I shrugged, freaking out on the inside.

  We continued to work on the puzzle for another hour. But this time, Cole brought up music, and the conversation flowed from there. I soon discovered we had more in common that I’d initially surmised.

  ‘Aren’t you supposed to go surfing?’ I asked, noticing the sun had finally burned away the cloud cover.

  ‘I can go tomorrow,’ he answered casually. ‘I’ll hang out with you today. ’

  I stared at the puzzle without moving a single muscle. I didn’t want him to hang out with me today, because I very much wanted him to hang out with me today.

  ‘And why do you look like you’re about to throw up?’

  ‘I, uh …’ I stuttered. ‘Um …’ I really wanted to jump off the couch and leave. But I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have anywhere to go. ‘I, um …’

  ‘It’s okay,’ he assured me with an amused shake of his head. ‘If you prefer to be by yourself, just say it. I felt bad leaving you alone, since Peyton won’t be back until tonight. But I have friends I can visit. ’

  ‘Sorry. I’m being stupid. I guess I haven’t figured out how to act around you yet. ’

  ‘You honestly say the strangest things. No wonder I can’t read you,’ he said with a low chuckle. ‘Just be yourself, Emma. Relax. I’m not going to hurt you. ’

  But I may hurt you.

  Peyton would be back tonight. How much damage could I do in one day? He barely liked me, so I could ignore the pull I was feeling towards him for a day. Just one day.

  ‘Okay,’ I conceded with a breath. ‘What did you have in mind?’

  He jumped off the couch. ‘Let’s go to the zoo. ’

  ‘The zoo?’ I questioned with my brows pulled together.

  ‘I’m not the skydiving, drag-racing kind of guy, Emma. I told you that. Let’s go to the zoo. ’

  We returned to the house hours later, full of French fries and ice cream.

  ‘That wasn’t so bad, right?’ Cole prodded, tossing his keys on the table.

  ‘No,’ I laughed. ‘I never thought I’d feed a giraffe, so thank you. ’ There was a pause, and Cole grinned at me with that ridiculous lopsided grin of his. With those lips that made me want to …

  ‘I think I’ll go for a run. ’ I needed time to detox from being around Cole all day. My skin was still humming from the number of times he’d inadvertently brushed his arm against mine as we strolled along the paved path. And of course it had to be one of the prettiest zoos ever, making the urge to hold his hand that much more intense. My head was spinning, along with my moral compass. I needed to get away from him.

  ‘I’ll throw something on the grill,’ he announced. ‘We’ll eat when you get back. ’

  I disappeared down the beach, leaving him on the deck, heating up the grill.

  I hadn’t let anyone close to me since I’d moved to California. Even my room-mates didn’t really know me.

  My freshman year I’d basically been a recluse – shutting out everyone and disconnected from any emotion. This year, I’d struggled to maintain control, and I’d lost it several times already. This all happened to coincide with the night Cole had entered my life. And now … I was feeling again. Way too much. And I was afraid. So very afraid of what might happen next if I wasn’t able to tuck everything back into the darkness, where it belonged.

  We’re just as bad as they are, with our lies and deceit. We destroy people’s lives.

  I dug deeper into the sand and forced myself forward, needing to silence the voices that reminded me of every reason I wasn’t worthy of letting anyone get close to me. My own voice among them. I fought for the control that continued to evade me with each pant, but even as I stumbled to a stop, I knew I couldn’t outrun who I really was.

  ‘You really push yourself,’ Cole noted as I stood below the deck, breathing heavily. I looked up with a start. ‘I’m cooking chicken. Thought we could make sandwiches. Is that okay?’

  ‘Sure,’ I responded, trying to recover. I trod up the steps and pushed my sandy sneakers off on the deck. Continuing into the spare bedroom to shower, I hoped to rinse away the emotions that were twisting inside me.

  We sat on the deck with our attention on the ocean. Not talking. And it occurred to me how much of our time together had been spent that way. Cole didn’t ask me about myself. He just allowed me to tell him whatever I wanted. He was comfortable in this silence. I was not.

  Sitting next to him without the distraction of a conversation made me all too aware of everything about him. The quiet contemplation that reflected in his tranquil eyes as he looked out at the sea. His relaxed posture, leaning back into the chair with his feet resting on the lower railing of the deck. The effortless strength his body exuded. There was an energy between us, wrapped in silence, that communicated in a way I had never experienced before.

  We returned to the couch after we ate, hovering over the puzzle, which was beginning to resemble the mountain scene on the box cover, with wisps of clouds stretched against blue skies.

  ‘There is something addictive about this. ’ I joined another cluster of pieces together. ‘I don’t get it, but I can’t quit. Maybe it’s the challenge. Needing to see it completed, no matter how tedious. ’

  ‘Maybe it’s because once you put all the pieces together, you end up with something beautiful. ’ A light shiver trailed along my back when I found his soothing blue eyes soaking me in.

  ‘I think I’ve figured out what your next thing should be,’ he said softly, capturing me in his gaze.

  ‘You have?’ I whispered.

  ‘Something that will make your heart beat fast,’ he murmured. ‘Something that will make you forget everything else around you. I could be wrong, but I think I know what that is. ’

  ‘Yeah?’ I said softly, my pulse erratic. The air between us had stilled, and he was inches away. I remained focused on the intense hue of his eyes, unable to move until I felt the tickle of his breath on my face. I closed my eyes, and his lips pressed softly, ever so gently, against my mouth. Everything ceased to exist except the tenderness of his kiss and the slow movement of his full lower lip over mine. I wasn’t breathing. I wasn’t thinking. I was filled with a tingling current that sent a rush through my body. When he pulled away, I kept m
y eyes closed, enraptured.

  My lids slowly rose, and he was waiting for me, the corner of his mouth raised teasingly. I exhaled and melted against the couch.

  ‘That was list-worthy. ’ My voice sounded fragile. The tingling buzz gradually dissipating. ‘I’m going to have a hard time coming up with something after that. ’

  Cole laughed.

  When I went to bed that night, I lay awake for a long time. I can’t do this – the words repeated over and over in my head, the panic building with each moment of inaction. I sat up and stared at the door.

  Running my fingers through my hair, I bit at my lip in contemplation. I needed to go. To leave here. To get away from him … and that kiss. That kiss that ignited a craving I didn’t know how to suppress. A craving to feel. To fill the bottomless void that had splintered open when I left Weslyn. I yearned to feel something … anything. Even if it was wrong.

  I crawled out of the bed and decided I’d ask Cole to drive me to Peyton’s. She and Tom were getting back late from Catalina, but they must be home by now. I didn’t care that it was the middle of the night. It was only a fifteen-minute drive.

  I dressed and dropped my bag in the living room before approaching his door, staring at it for a full minute, my chest heaving dramatically as I summoned the courage to knock. I raised my hand and rapped lightly.

  ‘Cole?’ I called to him. If he didn’t answer, then I’d just turn around and go back to my room. I was a wreck with nerves, waiting in front of his door. What the hell was I thinking?

  ‘Yeah,’ he answered, ‘you can come in. ’

  I swallowed hard and opened the door. ‘You awake?’ This was the dumbest thing I could have said, since he had just answered me.

  ‘What’s wrong?’ he questioned. I could barely make out his silhouette, propped up on his elbow in the bed. I didn’t move any closer than the two steps I’d taken into his room.

  ‘Can’t sleep,’ I explained feebly, pulling at the hem of my T-shirt. ‘And, um …’ The one sentence that I’d repeated over and over in my head, I need to leave, never escaped my mouth.

  He inspected me silently for a moment. ‘Come lie down, Emma. ’

  My eyes widened.

  ‘You can stay on top of the blankets,’ he suggested. ‘We’ll talk, and maybe you can fall asleep. ’

  ‘Okay,’ I rasped, cautiously moving closer to his bed. It smelled of his crisp, fresh scent. Cole shifted over to allow me plenty of room. Ignoring my protesting conscience, I smoothed the blankets and settled down on top.

  The sheet was draped across his waist, allowing a full view of the contours of this broad chest as he rolled on his side to face me. I opted to lie on my back and stare at the ceiling, so I could form sentences while we spoke. I was afraid I’d lose my nerve if I was looking at him.

  He didn’t say anything for a moment, and then whispered, ‘Or we don’t have to talk. ’

 
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