Out of breath, p.16
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       Out of Breath, p.16

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 16


  I knew he was waiting for me to begin the conversation. After all, I was the one who’d knocked on his door.

  ‘Sorry,’ I muttered. ‘I’m confused. ’


  ‘Cole, I don’t want you to like me,’ I confessed in a single breath.

  He didn’t respond. I suddenly felt very vulnerable. Turning towards him, I saw that he was waiting for me to explain. The intensity flickering in his eyes forced me to look away.

  ‘I’m … I’m afraid,’ I breathed, clenching my jaw at the honesty I’d just expelled.

  ‘That I’ll hurt you?’ he asked, his voice low and soothing.

  ‘That I’ll hurt you,’ I responded. ‘I’m fucked up. I’m so fucked up. I can’t … I can’t date you. I can’t let you in. I can’t get close. And –’

  ‘Emma,’ he interrupted. ‘It’s okay. ’

  I shifted on my side, feeling the need to see his face as my body trembled.

  ‘You don’t understand,’ I continued desperately, clutching my arms against my chest. ‘I shouldn’t be here. It’s taking everything I have not to walk out that door. That’s all I’ve thought about since we’ve met, that I need to leave you alone. Because that’s … that’s what I should do. ’ I tensed against the tightening pain in my chest. ‘I’m a horrible person. ’

  ‘I doubt that,’ he whispered in return. ‘But if you need to walk away, then go ahead. Emma, I’m not asking for anything. I like what this is. There’re no expectations. So, if you can … just for this week, I’d like it if you didn’t walk away. ’

  I wanted to touch him. To run my hand along his strong, square jaw. To nuzzle my face into his neck and become intoxicated by his scent. To allow him to wrap his arms around me so my skin could come alive with the buzz that his touch incited. But I didn’t. I remained contained and rigid on my side, unable to look away from him.

  ‘What do you think? Will you stay, Emma?’ he whispered, reaching over and running the back of his hand along my cheek so gently. I closed my eyes, and my entire body shivered.

  ‘I’ll stay,’ I responded, barely audible. I lay beside him, absorbing the energy between us.



  I KNEW I SHOULD OPEN MY EYES. I COULD feel the light shining in from the other side of my eyelids. But I was so comfortable under the warmth of the blanket, in my restful place, with him next to me, waiting. I squinted at him, lying across from me. He didn’t say anything. He just lay there watching me with a hint of a smile.

  His skin was luminous with the light peering in through the large glass door behind him, the ever-present subtle flush of colour across his prominent cheekbones. I wanted to press the palm of my hand against the ruddiness, expecting to feel heat – but I resisted.

  I was still on top of the comforter, but I’d been covered with the blue blanket from the couch. And he was still under the blankets, without a shirt on.

  ‘Can I ask you one thing?’ His minty breath floated to my nose. I shook my head, clamping my mouth shut. ‘You need to brush your teeth first?’ I nodded. He laughed. ‘Bathroom is right there. ’

  I considered getting my toothbrush from my bag in the living room, but after a moment of deliberation I opted to stay in his room. I used my finger to brush my teeth, then returned to the bed, nestling under the blanket. Cole continued to wait patiently.

  ‘Go ahead,’ I encouraged, resting my head on the pillow.

  ‘Why did you stand me up that night?’

  I paused a moment. It seemed so long ago. ‘I got a tattoo. ’ It was as close to the truth as I could get.

  ‘And it couldn’t have waited until the next day?’

  ‘No. ’

  He focused on my eyes, reading me, and nodded in acceptance.

  ‘Can I see it?’

  I slid my shirt up to reveal the image along my side.

  Cole studied it intently. His fingers traced the crescent, over the resting eyes and along the peaceful masculine profile. His touch left a tingling trail. My breath quivered.

  ‘What does it mean?’

  ‘There was a time I needed to be reminded,’ I explained.

  ‘It looks like it must’ve hurt,’ he said without taking his eyes off it, trying to decipher the script that ran along its edges.

  ‘Not enough,’ I murmured breathily.

  ‘You say the strangest things. ’ He said it almost admiringly, resting his hand on my bare skin.

  I shrugged shyly.

  ‘Will you do something predictable with me today?’ The heat from his hand coursed under my skin. My body hummed. Anything. But I knew the real answer to his question.

  ‘Yes, I’ll go surfing with you. ’

  He laughed, sitting up in the bed, taking the electric charge with him when he removed his hand from my waist – leaving me dark and empty once again.

  I barely made it into the water that day. Cole spent most of the time showing me techniques on the sand before he would allow me to take a board in the ocean. When we finally did get in the water, it was all about how to lie and sit on the board, along with instructions on how to paddle at the right time to catch the wave. He wouldn’t let me even attempt to stand at all that day. But the ‘predictable’ piqued my interest, so I agreed to do it again the following day.

  When Peyton called me that night to arrange a time to pick me up, I shut myself in the spare bedroom and told her that she could spend the week with Tom. I played it off like I was doing her a huge favour. I tried to sound bored and disinterested when she asked how Cole and I were getting along. I knew it wasn’t the right decision. But I wasn’t able to walk away. Not yet.

  Cole would teach me to surf in the calmer waves for a few hours each morning, and I’d insist afterwards that he go where he usually surfed so he could get some riding in. By the third day, I was able to pop up and keep my balance for … not very long.

  We’d spend the afternoons working on the puzzle, reading or I’d go for a run. Then each night, I’d lie next to him on top of the blanket. Before he’d close his eyes, he’d rest his hand on my side, over my tattoo, like he could hold my words in his hand. Every so often, he’d trace the outline of it with his fingers, branding me with the charge of his touch. The sparks it created flickered light back into the darkness. I did all I could to hold on to the tingling after he’d pulled his hand away.

  Once he was in the depths of sleep, I’d slip away to the spare room. I never woke next to him after that first night. It was my way of staving off the guilt. Too bad it didn’t work. I should have walked away.

  Cole never questioned my retreat each night. And he didn’t attempt to kiss me again.

  ‘You were pretty good today. ’ We were pulling into the driveway after spending most of the day in the water. ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself; it takes a lot of practice. ’

  ‘I see how much more intense it can be when I watch you and the other guys. And I just want to be there already. ’

  ‘Patience,’ he advised. ‘Or do you know what that is?’

  ‘Oh, you’re hilarious,’ I said, making him laugh.

  ‘Emma!’ Peyton called, when I stepped out of the car. I turned to watch her approach from the walkway, with Tom a step behind. ‘Where’d you guys go? We stopped by earlier, but you weren’t here. ’

  ‘Surfing. ’

  ‘You’re teaching her how to surf?’ Tom asked. Cole nodded, unstrapping the boards from the roof of his SUV.

  I noted Peyton’s bronzed skin. She was determined to return from break with a tan – despite the cool weather.

  ‘We wanted to see if you were up for going out tonight, since it’s our last night here. There’s a party on a private beach near my place. ’

  ‘Sure. ’ I shrugged indifferently.

  Tom glanced over at Cole, who nodded in acceptance.

  They followed us into the house.

  ‘So, you’ve been surfing and
putting together a puzzle,’ Tom observed in bewilderment, sitting down in the chair. ‘Sounds exciting. ’

  ‘I’m going to shower,’ I announced. Peyton followed me into the spare bedroom.

  ‘So … you two are getting along really well,’ she sang, a knowing smile creeping across her face.

  ‘It’s not what you think,’ I huffed, pulling clothes from my duffle bag.

  ‘Then what is it?’

  ‘We get along,’ I responded flatly.

  ‘I’m sure you do,’ she said with a gleam. I rolled my eyes and entered the bathroom, shutting out Peyton and her obnoxious smile.

  The party was crowded, loud and a shock to my system after the quiet week I’d had. After I’d been bumped into one too many times, Cole looked to me and asked, ‘Wanna go for a walk?’

  ‘Yes,’ I answered without hesitation.

  We followed the edge of the surf away from the rowdiness and loud music. This was it. Our last night. And neither of us had the nerve to talk about it.

  Cole’s arm brushed against mine, and I shivered. I could’ve sworn I saw a spark. He stopped suddenly, like he’d felt it too.

  ‘Wanna sit?’ he proposed. I could only nod.

  Sitting there in the stillness, I allowed my shoulders to relax. Silence enveloped us in a comforting embrace.

  ‘Do you ever get the urge to get in your car and just keep driving?’ I asked, focused on the water shimmering in the light of the moon.

  ‘How would you know when to stop?’ Cole challenged, sitting next to me so our arms barely touched.

  ‘I guess when you find something worth stopping for,’ I answered, acutely aware of the heat swirling between our skin.

  ‘I wonder how far you’d travel before that happened,’ Cole pondered. Then asked, ‘Why do you do the things on your list, especially since you don’t really have one?’

  I smiled lightly before giving serious consideration to his question. ‘So that I know I’m alive. ’

  ‘You’re the most alive person I’ve ever met,’ he replied softly. I turned my head up to find that he was intently focused on me.

  The flickering of the dim light in his eyes drew me in. The charged hum between us intensified, and my chest rose with an exaggerated breath, drawing it in.

  ‘Why haven’t you kissed me again?’ I whispered, wanting him to lean a little closer.

  ‘I’m afraid to kiss you,’ he confessed, his words floating through the air in the hush. ‘I’m afraid that if I kiss you, I won’t want to stop. I can feel you tense every time we touch, and I don’t want to do anything that will make you walk away from me. I’m afraid when we get back to school, this will all be over. I know we’re both avoiding talking about it. The same reason we haven’t finished that puzzle that should’ve been completed three days ago. Because then it’ll be over. Are you ready for that?’

  I tried to inhale, but nothing moved. I uttered not a sound. I could only stare into his eyes, pleading with me to say something.

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