Out of breath, p.20
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       Out of Breath, p.20

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 20


  I anxiously flipped the phone over in my hands in contemplation. Every time I got up the nerve to dial his number, I’d see his face, beaten and defeated, and erase it. He probably hated me for what I’d said. But if there was a chance he didn’t, I needed to find out.

  Hi. It’s Emma. Wondering how you are?

  I hit Send, and I felt like I might be sick. After a few minutes of barely breathing, my phone vibrated.

  Emma? Wow. Never expected to hear from you.

  I exhaled in a rush. The sight of his response made my shoulders ease up.

  Can’t say it was easy to text. But I was thinking about you.

  I bit at my lip as I waited.

  I think about you all the time. Thought about finding you, but didn’t. Thought you never wanted to see me again.

  A shudder ran through me. Before I could respond, he followed up with another text. So much has happened over the years. I’ve had time to think. Make some decisions.

  When he didn’t continue, I asked, What kind of decisions?

  I need to make amends. So it means a lot to hear from you. Wish I could hear your voice, but can’t talk now.

  I typed, Why can’t you talk?

  I was tempted to call him. My heartbeat picked up at just the thought of his voice on the other end.

  Leaving soon. Just know that I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.

  His words had a finality that made my insides writhe. Where are you going? I suddenly feared there was more to this trip to New York than a career opportunity.

  To make things right. Owe it to my family. It’s time. Done destroying people’s lives.

  I stared at the screen in alarm. Was he about to do something that would ruin his life … and mine?

  I pressed the Call-button and tried to control my frantic breaths as I waited for him to pick up. After several rings, I got his voicemail.

  Please talk to me. What are you planning to do? I typed quickly, my fingers fumbling with the letters.

  Sorry Emma. It’s too late. Need to go. Please forgive me.

  I called again, and this time it went straight to voicemail.

  Jonathan. What are you going to do?

  I couldn’t sit still. I began pacing, waiting for his response. My stomach twisted in on itself while I stared at the blank screen. He never responded.

  I walked to the SUV, where I found Cole sifting through his bag in the back. Still upset with me, he didn’t look up when I approached.

  ‘I need to leave,’ I told him. ‘I have to go, and I need to borrow your car. Please. ’ I didn’t even try to hide the panic in my voice.

  ‘What’s going on?’ Cole demanded, examining my distraught face.

  I looked down and paused a moment. ‘You’ll get your car back, I promise. There’s something that I have to do, and it’s important. I just … please trust me, Cole. ’

  He stood before me, studying my face as I shifted, unable to hide my desperation. ‘Take it. ’ He removed the keys from his pocket and dumped them in my hand. I opened my mouth to thank him, but he turned away from me, zipped up his bag and slammed the back shut.

  ‘Thanks,’ I whispered, knowing he couldn’t hear me.

  I climbed into the driver’s seat of the SUV and drove away, gripping the steering wheel tight to keep my hands from quaking. I glanced in the side mirror to find Cole watching me, his hands clasped behind his head. I had to look away as the guilt spread like acid in my stomach.

  I sped through the campground, leaving a cloud of dust behind me, determined to find Jonathan.


  Too Late

  ‘EMMA, WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU? MEG called and said you took off yesterday, but no one knows where you went. I’m about to board a plane and you have me completely freaked out. I’d better have a voicemail from you waiting when I land or I’m going to lose it. ’

  Just thinking about what I should tell Sara made my chest hurt. Instead, I called and said, ‘I’m fine. I’m at the house. Hope you had a good flight and call me when you can. ’ Simple. Factual. But avoiding the truth.

  Feeling like my insides were filled with cement, I climbed out of the SUV and walked towards the house. I had been up all night and I was too tired to get my bags from the trunk. When I got closer, I found Cole waiting for me on the front step. Evidently he’d received my text letting him know he could pick up his SUV any time after eleven. I kept my eyes on the sidewalk, not wanting to face him until I had to.

  Standing in front of the stairs, I slowly raised my head. His face was smooth and emotionless. His blue eyes scanned my limp face.

  ‘I owe you an oil change,’ I said flatly, holding out the keys and dropping them in his outstretched hand.

  ‘Where’d you go?’ he asked, his voice carefully neutral.

  ‘To try to fix things with a friend,’ I answered, focused on the fading paint on the bottom of the stoop.

  ‘Did you fix things?’

  ‘No,’ I whispered, swallowing the failure in the back of my throat. ‘I was too late. ’ My lip quivered, and I closed my eyes to keep the tears from escaping. But they fell along my cheeks anyway. I could’ve blamed my emotional vulnerability on exhaustion, but that wasn’t true. I hurt, much deeper than the tears rolling down my face.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Cole offered with sincerity. He rose from his perch and stepped towards me, wrapping me in his arms.

  I could only nod, afraid to open my mouth because I didn’t want to let out all that was trapped behind it. My failure to find Jonathan, to stop him and to make things right before he disappeared, crushed me. He hadn’t responded to a single message I’d left, begging him to call me.

  The final voicemail message I’d left at five o’clock this morning, before I drove back home, still echoed through my head. ‘It’s me again. This is my last message. I’ve been up all night driving, and thinking about what happened that night. And I wish I could take it back, every word I said. Because I was wrong. I wish I could’ve told you in person, but I don’t know where you are. Please don’t leave. Call me. ’

  Jonathan was gone. Staring into the window of his abandoned apartment, seeing that it had been completely cleared out, hit me harder than I was prepared for. I wanted to see him. I missed him.

  I missed talking to him, missed the way he could make me laugh at the times I needed it most. I missed our late nights, both of us unable to sleep and making fun of infomercials in the early hours of the morning. Wanting more than anything to hear his voice one more time on the other end of the phone, waiting for me to call him … no matter what time or for what reason. Now he was no longer waiting.

  I screwed up. I screwed up so bad. The acrid guilt ate at me with each mile I drove. But I was too late. I always realized the truth too late.

  Cole stroked my hair as the tears continued to cascade down my cheeks, soaking into his shirt.

  ‘I’m sorry I left like that yesterday. ’ My voice was muffled against his chest. ‘I was panicked, and I didn’t know how to explain …’

  ‘It’s okay,’ he murmured in my ear. ‘I’m sorry I got so angry. I just … I don’t want anything to happen to you. And you scared me when you jumped. You didn’t even think twice, you were just … gone. ’

  I lifted my head and peered up at him. His eyes were heavy with concern. I ran my hand along the coarse blond stubble lining his jaw.

  Cole brushed the tears from my cheek with his thumb. ‘I don’t like seeing you so sad. ’

  His words tugged at my heart. Then he lowered his mouth to mine and kissed me ever so gently, the brush of his lips igniting the charge between us.

  I gripped the back of his neck and pressed my lips against his so hard it almost hurt. I needed to feel him, to taste him, for his hands to touch me so I could release the ache – even if just for a little while.

  Cole pulled me against him, answering my silent plea with a heavy breath of want, gripping me so tightl
y I could feel his heart beat. He clutched my hand and led me into the house and up the stairs without pause. Shutting the door behind us and securing the lock, he turned towards me and ran his fingers into my hair, overwhelming me with a kiss that shot through my entire system with a shocking jolt.

  His muscles tightened along his back as I ran my hands up under his shirt, digging my fingers into his flesh. He pulled his shirt over his head and continued kissing me – my mouth, my neck, my shoulder after stripping off my shirt – like he could kiss away the pain, wanting to make me whole. I knew that even if he kissed me every second for the rest of my life, I would still be broken. But I didn’t want him to stop.

  I devoured him as if he were a drug, desperate to push away the sadness. The taste of him, the cool scent of his skin, the heat of his flesh pressed against mine, fed the addiction and filled the void for the moment.

  We lay on our stomachs under the covers, our faces pressed against the pillows, looking at each other. I leaned over and kissed his jaw.

  ‘Why do you put up with me?’ I questioned, my voice slightly above a whisper.

  ‘Maybe I like being tortured,’ he responded playfully.

  I laughed.

  ‘I like making you laugh. ’ His mouth formed that adorable tilted smile. ‘It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort. And I like getting you naked. ’ He leaned in and kissed me, running his warm hand along my back. ‘I didn’t like what happened the last two days. I really thought … we were over. ’ He pulled away so he could look me in the eye. ‘Is that what you want? To be over?’

  I shook my head ever so slightly. It wasn’t the answer I should have given, but it was the truth. ‘But I can’t let you in, and that’s not fair to you. ’

  ‘Let me decide that. ’

  I released a resigned breath. ‘Promise me one thing. ’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘That you’ll leave, that you’ll walk away when I’m too much. Before I hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m not strong enough to give you up. ’

  ‘I won’t let you hurt me, Emma. I swear. ’ He held me captive in the depths of his blue eyes, before leaning in and pressing against my lips. Cole rested his head back down on the pillow. I watched him close his eyes and eventually drift to sleep.

  As I watched Cole beside me I found my thoughts drifting towards Jonathan. No one could ever love you.

  I squeezed my eyes shut against the hate that had spewed from my mouth. He wasn’t going to call me back, and I didn’t blame him.

  My search for redemption was futile. Words couldn’t be unspoken, and the damage they did was irreparable. I knew that better than most.

  But there was something more that kept me from falling asleep. Jonathan was planning to do something he could never undo – I needed to find him. I had to go to New York. If that’s where he was, then that’s where I needed to be.

  I was roused by the sound of my phone vibrating. Lifting my heavy head, I peered at the clock. It was after four in the morning. I was about to roll back under the protection of Cole’s arm when panic set in. Jonathan.

  The phone fell silent. I slipped out of the bed and knelt on the floor, frantically searching the clothes abandoned on the floor in the dark. I slid a T-shirt that smelled of Cole over my bare skin and located my shorts just as my phone started up again. Seated next to the bed, I held it up and paused at the sight of the McKinleys’ number on my screen.