Out of breath, p.19
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       Out of Breath, p.19

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 19

 

  I made my way to them and climbed up on a chunk of rock. The guys popped open cans of beer while Meg handed out sandwiches. Peyton searched through her iPhone for music to blare through the small portable speaker.

  A conversation started about the trip thus far and the ridiculousness witnessed along the way. The buzz of voices faded as my attention drifted back to the cliff.

  Jump, Emma. My heart skipped a beat. Emma, you’re either going to jump, or I’m going to push you.

  ‘I’ll be right back,’ I murmured. Not caring whether they heard me or not, I stepped across the broken slabs of rock towards the path that led to the cliff. As I neared the yelling and laughter, I noticed that the path continued around a bend. I couldn’t see the destination from this vantage point, but it wound up, and so did I.

  The path crumbled beneath my feet, causing my steps to falter several times, until it unveiled a narrow ledge jutting out over the water. I cautiously stepped closer to its edge and was overcome with a rush of dizziness when I looked down. There was only the crisp blue beneath me.

  The water’s surface appeared smooth, reflective as glass, the light from the sun bouncing off it. My quickened pulse made my hands shake as I inched closer, working up the courage to take the devastating step.

  Emma, what are you afraid of?

  12

  Over the Edge

  I FEARED THAT IF I TURNED AROUND, Jonathan would be there, awaiting an answer. I closed my eyes and inhaled, calming my racing heartbeat. When I opened them again, the jitters were gone and the vertigo had dissipated. I took in the coppery stone wall across from me.

  I craned my neck over the edge again. ‘What are you afraid of, Emma?’ I asked in a murmur, repeating Jonathan’s words from that day on the cliff.

  Nothing.

  I knew … I wasn’t afraid. I was carved out and scraped clean, a shell of my former self standing upon the ledge. There was only something to fear if I had something to lose. And I had nothing.

  My head was quiet. I stared down at the water that was inviting me to take the last step over the edge.

  ‘Emma?’ Cole’s voice broke through the silence. Rocks scattered along the path with his approach. I knew I was running out of time. I glanced back over my shoulder as Cole came into view. His eyes widened in shock. ‘Emma, what are you doing?’ I turned away. Everything blurred beneath me as the tears filled my eyes.

  ‘Emma, what the hell are you doing?!’ Cole demanded again in a panic behind me. ‘You can’t jump! You’ll kill yourself from this height. ’

  I didn’t look back. I took that final step and disappeared over the edge. Instantly swallowed up by the rushing wind I plummeted towards the water. My entire body rippled with adrenaline. My stomach opened up as the gust of air hugged me tight, stealing my breath. Nothing mattered in those few seconds. Not Jonathan. Not Evan. Not Cole. Not even me. Everything was lost, and I surrendered to the stillness that overtook me.

  The moment of peace ended abruptly as my feet slammed through the water. My insides ricocheted violently on impact. The velocity of the fall forced me down until I collided with the rocks lining the bottom. Horrific pain shot through my leg as it grated against the unforgiving surface. I restrained a scream.

  Kicking off the rocks, I propelled myself towards the light. My lungs burned for air as I fought for the surface with each desperate kick.

  An enticing whisper told me to stop. To stop fighting. To stop trying. To just …

  I gasped and coughed as I broke through the water. It took me a moment to orient myself as I sucked in bursts of air.

  I looked back up to the top of the jagged rock from which I’d just taunted death. Cole was hovering over the edge, but I couldn’t see his expression from this distance. The scraped skin below my knee shrieked as I trod water, drawing my attention away from Cole’s face. I was afraid to find out how bad it was.

  When I glanced back up, Cole had disappeared.

  I could hear laughing and hollering around the other side of the cliff. I gritted my teeth as I kicked towards the boats, coming into view of the other swimmers. Meg and Peyton were still on the rock, soaking in the sun. When I neared the boat, I heard Cole plummeting into the water to reach me.

  ‘Holy shit, Emma! I can’t believe you jumped. Are you okay?’ he demanded, water splashing around him. All he had to do was look at me. ‘You’re hurt. Where?’

  ‘I scraped my leg,’ I murmured, shrinking away, holding the edge of the canoe. ‘I’ll be fine. Can we go back to the camp?’

  Cole didn’t answer me right away. ‘Yeah,’ he finally replied. Turning towards the beach, he shouted, ‘We’re taking off. We’ll see you back at the camp. ’

  Meg’s forehead scrunched in confusion. Before she could question us, Peyton yelled back, ‘Okay. See you there. ’

  I gingerly lifted myself into the canoe. My entire body was starting to ache from the impact. I wrapped my leg with a towel before Cole could see the gouge below my knee, but I couldn’t prevent the blood from trailing along the bottom of the boat as he paddled out of the cove.

  ‘Let me see it, Emma,’ he requested sternly. ‘Let me see how bad it is. ’

  Hesitating for a moment, I slowly turned towards him and unwrapped the towel.

  He sucked in through his teeth. ‘Shit. You cut it up pretty bad. ’

  I quickly wrapped the towel back around my leg, clenching my teeth against the stinging burn.

  Cole didn’t speak to me as we paddled past canoes full of drunken, laughing students. When we finally arrived at the load-out, my leg was pulsing, and blood had seeped through the towel. Cole helped me out of the canoe, and I limped over the rocks to the van, where he lifted me in.

  ‘There’s a first-aid station at the campground,’ the driver announced, eyeing the bloody towel. ‘I can drop you off there if you want. ’

  ‘Thanks,’ Cole said, responding for me. We continued in tense silence until we arrived back at the Stanford camp, my leg thoroughly cleaned, bandaged and throbbing profusely.

  ‘Emma,’ Cole demanded, the uncharacteristic strain of emotion in his voice making me raise my head. ‘Do you even know how fucked up that was?! You could’ve seriously hurt yourself, or even died. I can’t believe …’ He ran his hands through his hair and backed away. He shook his head in angered disbelief. ‘I don’t understand you. ’

  I remained silent.

  Cole tightened his jaw, running his hands through his hair again. ‘I need to clear my head. ’ He turned away from me and walked off down the gravel road.

  I watched after him as laughter poured out of a van that pulled up to unload. He deserved an explanation. But I didn’t have one that would satisfy him. Or one I understood myself.

  I closed my eyes and sank back into a folding chair.

  Somewhere behind me a couple of guys were talking in the obnoxiously loud voices specially reserved for drunk college guys. ‘Hey, dude, thanks for hitting me up last night. That party was sick!’

  ‘Were you at Reeves’s party last weekend?’ a second guy asked.

  ‘Jonathan’s?’ My eyes shot open. ‘Yeah, that was the best party I’ve ever been to. What school did he graduate from again?’

  ‘Architecture, I think. He was a grad student, though. ’ My heart slammed against my chest.

  I twisted around to see who was talking. Several guys were sitting at the picnic tables, stuffing their mouths with burgers.

  ‘Whatever it was, he must’ve landed some killer job in New York or something because that party must have cost him a ton,’ the guy in the grey T-shirt contributed.

  I bent over with my elbows pressing against my thighs, trying to calm my frantic pulse. There was no way it was him. But when I turned back and saw the USC hat, I knew –

  Don’t wait for me. I don’t want you to be there for me, not ever. Stay out of my life.

  My caustic words turned my stomach. I hadn’t thought abo
ut him since that night I’d driven him from my life. Until today. Now, with just the mention of his name, every thought of him I’d pushed away came rushing back.

  We trust each other with secrets no one else knows.

  I covered my face with trembling hands. I kept his secrets as my own, despite the weight they had on my conscience. I’d never told anyone what he’d confessed to me that night. And I’d tried to shut it out, to forget the horror he’d inflicted on so many lives. But that was impossible.

  ‘When did he say he was leaving?’

  I stilled, listening closely.

  ‘I don’t know – either today or tomorrow, I think. ’

  ‘Back to New York?

  ‘Yeah, I guess he’s from there or something. ’

  Giving in to an impulse, I stood up and approached the table.

  ‘Hey,’ I said at the end of the table. ‘Were you guys talking about Jonathan Reeves?’

  The guy in the grey T-shirt produced a half smile and said, ‘Yeah. You know him?’

  ‘I do,’ I responded. ‘I wasn’t able to make the party last weekend. But I wanted to say goodbye before he left. Except I can’t find the email he sent. Do you still have it?’

  The guy with the hat pulled out his phone. ‘Yeah, I have it right here. Want me to forward it to you?’

  ‘That’d be great. ’ I smiled faintly. He handed me his phone, and I typed in my address and sent it. ‘Thanks. ’

  ‘Can I email you sometime?’ he asked with a wink. I cringed.

  ‘Uh, I didn’t come here alone,’ I told him with an apologetic shrug, quickly backing away. ‘Thanks for the info. ’

  I continued across the Stanford site and sat in another chair at the far end, away from the guys. I pulled out my phone and went to my email, opening the forwarded invitation.

  The invite announced a graduation/going-away party. It was pretty straightforward – a date, time and location … and a phone number. I stared at the number displayed on my screen.

  My world had been crumbling around me every day since that box was opened five months ago. There wasn’t anyone who could understand the feeling of being consumed by a darkness that I didn’t have the strength to fight. No one would be able to comprehend the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that was slowly unravelling the threads of my soul. Except for Jonathan. He was the only one who’d ever understood. Which was why I’d never told anyone about what he’d done, because I understood. We’d both done terrible things in our lives, and we would always be bonded by our destruction.

  I feel like I can tell you things … things that I usually keep to myself. Most people don’t understand.

  I inhaled as his voice echoed through my head. My chest tore open, knowing how I had betrayed that trust. I’d taken his fears and insecurities and sliced him open with them. I knew why he’d never sought me out while we were both living in California. I’d made certain of it.

  No one could ever love you.

  I shuddered in disgust at the resonance of my own voice. I’d chosen this desolation when I’d betrayed them both that night. Now I was being given a chance to make things right. And if Jonathan couldn’t forgive me, then no one would.

 
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