Out of breath, p.18
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       Out of Breath, p.18

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 18


  ‘Yes,’ I teased with a low laugh. ‘Lie down next to me. ’

  Cole lowered himself so his body lined up against mine. My senses heightened even with this slight touch. He gazed up at the dark sky with his hands behind his head.

  ‘It’s quiet,’ he observed after a moment.

  ‘Exactly. ’

  ‘So, it’s not about the height? It’s the silence?’

  ‘Yes. ’

  Unfortunately I couldn’t find it. I shivered as I forced Evan’s voice out of my thoughts.

  We let the quiet surround us and soak into our skin with the coolness of the evening breeze. Lying next to Cole stirred thoughts of the conversation I’d had with Sara earlier. What the hell was I doing? I’d struggled for the past two months to end this. But every time I tried, the thrilling sensation he provoked would overwhelm me into submission, leaving me weak and unable to quit him.

  ‘Why do you want to stay with me, Cole?’ I whispered, focusing on the blinking lights of a passing plane.

  ‘Other than the fact that I’m extremely attracted to you?’ he taunted. I elbowed him. ‘Ow,’ he said, laughing.

  ‘I’m serious. ’

  ‘I know you are. ’ He collected himself, then continued. ‘So you want to know why I want to be around, knowing that on any day you could just walk away?’

  ‘Well … yeah,’ I responded, surprised by his candour.

  ‘I guess I just wake up each day hoping that it isn’t the day you decide to walk,’ he answered. ‘I’m not an overly emotional person. I don’t talk about my feelings, and you accept that. We don’t have to speak at all and it’s comfortable. Most girls need to know what I’m thinking, feeling, wanting … constantly. You don’t. ’

  ‘But I’m so messed up,’ I argued, knowing too well the destruction I was capable of.

  ‘You keep saying that. But I don’t really see you that way. Yes, you’re a little reckless. You do these extreme things every once in a while just for the rush. I don’t get it, but I’ll go with it. It’s not like you’re expecting me to join you or anything. I don’t know enough about you or your life to say you’re fucked up. And if you ever want to tell me, then I’ll listen. Because, as much as I don’t talk, I can listen. Whenever you’re ready, I will hear you out. But I like being with you. Does that answer your question?’

  ‘But whatever this is, I can’t give you more,’ I warned. ‘We aren’t dating. We’re just …’

  ‘Hanging out,’ Cole finished lightly.

  I propped myself up on my elbow and grinned down at him. Cole’s eyes flickered across my face. He added with a devious smile, ‘And since I am very attracted to you, sometimes we can hang out … naked. ’

  I opened my mouth in feigned offence, but before I could say anything, he pulled me down and captured my words with his soft lips. And just like that, I surrendered to him and the questioning thoughts disappeared.

  I positioned myself so I was leaning against his sculpted chest, and his mouth started moving faster. I clutched his shirt in my fist, overtaken again by the charge rushing through my body. Cole tilted my head up and caressed my neck with his lips, tasting my skin. I released a moan. He started to turn me onto my back, but then suddenly stopped.

  When I opened my eyes, Cole wore a panicked look on his face, suddenly aware of where he was. I bit my lip to keep from laughing.

  ‘We’re on the roof,’ he announced, more to himself than to me. He noticed I was trying not to laugh. ‘You would have loved to have sex up here, wouldn’t you? We’re on the frickin’ roof, Emma!’

  I started laughing, unable to contain it any longer.

  ‘Come on,’ he urged with an exasperated sigh, scooting across the shingles towards Meg’s window. I followed him, still laughing.

  Cole didn’t question me when I asked to sleep in his SUV instead of the tent. In the end it provided more privacy – privacy that we took advantage of the first night we arrived at the campground.

  The campground was as crazy as I’d expected. There were camps for each college, Stanford’s being the biggest. From what I’d learned, a group of friends from our university started this trip years ago, and it had gotten progressively bigger each year since. The size had been capped in recent years to keep up the exclusivity, but there were now participants from USC, UCLA and Berkeley, blatantly displaying their school pride with jackets and sweatshirts, banners strung between trees, and even chairs and tents staking claim to their university.

  The next morning I peeked out the SUV’s window and observed groggy faces making their way to the bathrooms with dishevelled hair and pained, squinty eyes. As Cole slept I pulled the sleeping bag up to my nose and snuggled into my pillow, staring up at the trees around us.

  You’re beautiful. My heart seized as the memory invaded. I closed my eyes to quiet his voice. To force away the feel of his fingers brushing my cheek and the intensity of his steel-blue eyes looking into me.

  I love you.

  My lip quivered.

  ‘What’s that?’ Cole groaned from behind me, his voice heavy with sleep. I froze, cursing myself for letting the words slip from my mouth.

  Cole rolled over and slid his arm around my waist, pulling me into him with his face pressed against my hair. ‘Good morning,’ he murmured. My body eased as the warmth of his skin caressed me, his touch a soothing sedation.

  ‘Good morning,’ I replied, squirming back so I could feel the firmness of his body.

  Cole slid his hand over my hip, slipping my sweatpants down. I kicked them off, my breath erratic. I ground back against him, his hot breath in my ear. He moved into me, causing me to gasp in pleasure.

  Being this close to him, filled the emptiness that had corroded my insides over the past two years. I needed him. I needed him in a way that probably wasn’t healthy for either of us. He was my fix. Even if he could never fix me.

  His grip on my hip tightened. As his muscles contracted, Cole pushed deeper with a grunting breath. My erratic pulse was replicated by my breath as a moan escaped. I gripped his hand as I tensed around him. My body shuddered. He held himself against me, squeezing my hand, the tension in his muscles slowly releasing. I could feel his heart beating against my back.

  ‘It is a good morning,’ he finally said. I let out a light laugh.

  We emerged from the SUV a few minutes later, greeted by the crisp air and … beer cans strewn across the ground. Remnants of the previous night’s bonfire still swirled in the brisk morning breeze.

  After returning from the bathrooms, prepared for the day, we met up with Peyton, Tom, Meg and the guy she’d been dating, Luke. ‘You two slept in,’ Meg remarked. Then she flashed me a knowing grin when she noticed the lingering flush along Cole’s neck. My face flamed as I looked away, aware that she’d already heard way too much through our shared wall at the house.

  ‘Ready to go?’ Peyton asked perkily as Tom dumped ice into a cooler full of beers. ‘The shuttle is picking us up in ten minutes. ’

  Cole adjusted the backpack that contained our beach towels and other essentials for our canoe. ‘All set,’ he answered for the both of us. He slipped his hand in mine and I stiffened. His grip released instantly, and he started walking ahead of me without any other reaction.

  I grimaced guiltily. We weren’t affectionate in public. We didn’t hold hands, or … well, any couple things. We weren’t dating, as I continuously reminded everyone. Last night was the first time we’d spent the night together since Santa Barbara … for a reason. And now, I was afraid this might get complicated, even after our talk on the roof.

  I picked up my pace and caught up with him, walking close enough so our arms brushed.

  ‘Want me to steer?’ I offered teasingly.

  ‘Yeah, so we end up in the rocks?’ Cole responded, his expression easing into a smile. ‘I’ll steer. You just sit up front and … I don’t know. Don’t fall out. ’

  ‘Funny,’ I jeered
. ‘I’ll only fall out if you tip us. ’

  Cole laughed and nudged me gently. I smiled, relieved to be rid of the awkwardness.

  We were floating down the river within a half hour. The splashing, hollering, laughing and music blaring from random canoes contrasted with the natural beauty surrounding us. I tilted my face up to the sun to absorb the warmth, feeling peaceful, despite the distractions all around me. I was startled when water sprinkled across my face. I opened my eyes to find a water fight ensuing between two canoes.

  ‘Want a beer?’ Cole offered, flipping open the lid of the cooler that sat on the floor of our canoe.

  ‘I still don’t like beer,’ I told him. ‘I should’ve packed something else, I guess. I’m fine with water or soda. ’ He pulled out a bottle of water and handed it to me.

  The temperature began to rise and I took off my T-shirt, revealing a colourful plaid string bikini. I heard Cole choke on his beer.

  ‘What?’ I demanded, turning quickly to face him, suddenly fearing he’d seen the trace of the faded scars along my back. I knew they were faint, resembling flesh-toned scratches, but I was still all too aware of them.

  ‘I, uh …’ Cole faltered. ‘I don’t remember that bathing suit. ’ His cheeks grew red as his lips curled up.

  I laughed. ‘I take it you like it. ’

  ‘I do,’ he confirmed. ‘Kinda wishing we were back in the SUV right about now. ’

  Before I could respond, Tom hollered, ‘Cole! Let’s go to that spot we found last year to have lunch. ’

  ‘Sure,’ Cole yelled back, following Peyton and Tom’s canoe. Meg and Luke trailed behind ours.

  We steered around a narrow bend that was virtually concealed by arching tree branches. The canoe traversed several winding curves before the water opened up into a large pool surrounded by jagged cliffs of rust-coloured rock. It was like we’d entered a cave with its roof blown off. The walls pressed in around the crystal water where people were wading and floating, while others sat up on broken slabs along a makeshift beach, drinking and eating.

  We stepped out of the canoe into chilled water that sent a rush of goosebumps over my skin. A holler cut through the air. I turned quickly just as a body plunged into the water with a huge splash, making the girls around him squeal from the cold spray. I looked back to the top of the ledge, where a line of people awaited a turn. My heartbeat sped up its pace at just the thought of jumping.

  ‘Are you coming?’ Cole called to me.

  I pulled my attention away from the cliff. ‘Huh? Yeah, I’ll be right there. ’ Cole continued wading through the water carrying the cooler. I glanced up at the cliff again, and a charge thrummed under my skin.

  What is it that keeps you up at night? What is the source of all of your nightmares? What are you afraid of? I could hear Jonathan’s voice as if he were standing right next to me. I squeezed my hand into a fist to ward him off as I continued to stare at the cliff.

  ‘Emma!’ Peyton hollered. I turned my head with a jerk. She and Meg were standing on a slanted slab, calling to me. ‘What are you doing out there? Come eat!’

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