Out of breath, p.21
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       Out of Breath, p.21

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 21

 

  I sighed, bracing for a lecture on the other end of the phone, assuming Sara had arrived home and called me as soon as it was daylight, not caring about the three-hour time difference. But just as I said, ‘Hello,’ it struck me that it wasn’t possible for Sara to be home yet, and dread crashed into my stomach like a large stone thrown from a cliff.

  ‘Emma?’ Anna confirmed. ‘Emma, honey, it’s Anna. ’

  I couldn’t breathe.

  ‘Hi, Anna,’ I managed to choke out. Her voice was alarmingly distraught, even in the few words she’d said.

  ‘Emma, something awful has happened,’ Anna continued, her voice cracking. ‘It’s your mother. ’ She paused. ‘She took her life late last night. ’

  I was in the dark, deep in a hole that chilled me to the bone. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t feel anything except the cold. I clutched my knees to my chest and began rocking my trembling body.

  ‘Emma? Are you there?’

  Her voice was a distant buzz in my ear. ‘Honey, can you say something?’

  ‘She’s dead,’ I muttered, my voice sounding foreign, like it was coming from outside of my body.

  ‘Yes. I’m so sorry. ’ Anna’s voice wavered. ‘We’re going to get you home as soon as we can. I’m making arrangements now, okay?’

  Her voice disappeared, and I was isolated in the dark again, unable to hear her. I lowered the phone and braced myself against the frigidness that enveloped me.

  I hate her, Sara, I hate her so much … I wish she were dead.

  ‘Emma?’ Meg broke through the voices. I squinted up at her in confusion. The room was so bright with the overhead light, it felt like I was staring into the sun. ‘Emma, can you hear me?’ She knelt down next to me, slowly coming into focus. Alarmed, I glanced around and noticed that there were more people in my room. Peyton was sitting on the bed, and Serena was on the floor on the other side of me, holding my hand.

  I glanced up and saw Cole, watching me from within the open doorway. Luke and James were in the hall, talking softly.

  My eyes flicked from face to face in confusion. Then I remembered. The air was expelled from my lungs as if my chest had been punctured. ‘Did I wake you?’ I questioned, focusing on Meg’s sorrowful green eyes.

  ‘No, you didn’t wake us,’ she assured me. ‘Sara’s mom called me. Emma, I’m so sorry. ’

  She wrapped her arms around my shoulders as Serena squeezed my hand. I patted her on the back gently, trying to console her. I was still in the dark, unable to connect with what was happening. So I let her hold me for as long as she needed.

  ‘I’ll see you when I get back. ’ I hugged Meg and Serena at the kerb of the airport drop-off. Then I turned to face Cole. He examined me as if I were made of glass that was slowly cracking, fearing I’d shatter with the slightest pressure. ‘I’ll see you in Santa Barbara before you know it. ’

  ‘I wish you’d let me go with you,’ he said, lightly running his thumb along my cheek.

  ‘I know,’ I responded in a hush. ‘But I don’t even want to go back. I have to. Besides, you have to get ready for finals, and you can’t miss classes. It’s better this way. Sara will be there, so I’ll be fine. ’

  ‘Will you call me?’

  I nodded. He leaned in and brushed my lips with his.

  I left them behind me, my face masked with a faint smile of assurance, trying to make them feel as if I were more held together than I was. Then I turned towards the entrance, walking through the electric doors, and panic swept through my stomach like a turbulent storm. I concentrated on breathing as I rolled through security, half expecting to be pulled aside for suspicious behaviour as beads of sweat spread across my forehead.

  I sat in a chair facing the runway, uncertain how I was going to force myself onto the plane to fly to the one place in the world I’d never intended to return. I hadn’t set one foot in Weslyn since the day I’d fled two years ago, and I was on the verge of sprinting back out of the terminal to keep it that way when my phone rang.

  ‘Hi,’ I answered faintly.

  ‘How are you doing?’ Sara asked.

  ‘Really?’

  ‘Yeah, I know. Stupid question. I’ll be picking you up from the airport. I’ll help you get through this. ’

  ‘Thanks,’ I said, wanting it to be over already. I’d kept myself busy contacting my professors to explain why I wouldn’t be in classes this week and arranging to make up the final exams later in the summer. I hadn’t stopped for a moment to think of anything – not until I stepped through the airport door, and the reality of what was happening became unavoidable.

  ‘Sara, I’m not staying in Weslyn. ’

  ‘What? What do you mean? My parents are expecting you to stay at our house. ’

  ‘I can’t. ’ My voice was strained. ‘There’s a motel along the highway, right outside town. I’ll stay there. I really … can’t. ’

  ‘Okay,’ Sara soothed patiently. ‘Just concentrate on getting on the plane. We’ll figure the rest out when I see you. ’

  The airline representative announced that they were about to start boarding.

  ‘I have to go,’ I told her. ‘I’ll see you later. ’

  ‘I’ll be here,’ Sara assured me.

  I boarded the plane and tucked my carry-on in the bin above before taking the window seat, excusing myself past two middle-aged men dressed in business suits. I gazed blindly out the window as my breath shot out in short bursts.

  ‘Don’t like flying?’ the man next to me asked, eyeing my hands twisting around each other in my lap.

  ‘It’s more about the landing,’ I murmured honestly.

  ‘I fly all of the time,’ he assured me. ‘There’s nothing to worry about. ’

  I nodded, trying to push my lips into a smile, but failed to look anything other than terrified. I closed my eyes and clenched my hands into fists, willing myself to calm down. I was on the verge of a full-on panic attack.

  ‘You could use a drink,’ he observed with a slight chuckle.

  ‘Too bad I’m only nineteen. ’

  He eyed me like I was losing my mind. Which wasn’t far from the truth. ‘If you’re going to be like this the entire flight, I’ll buy you a drink. ’

  ‘Sure,’ I responded, desperate to be rid of the anxiety.

  Once we were in flight, the two men each ordered a vodka and soda while I requested a water. I was surprised when they both handed me their drinks. I guess I wasn’t the best flight companion.

  ‘Thanks,’ I responded, reaching for my wallet to pay them back.

  The man beside me held up his hand, ‘Don’t worry about it. ’

  I sucked the drinks down with a frantic thirst and returned them to the gentlemen’s tray tables with the ice barely melted. They chuckled, and about an hour later, when I was still gripping the arm of the seat like I expected the plane to go down any minute, two more drinks were set in front of me.

  ‘Miss,’ I heard through the fog in my head. ‘Miss, we’ve landed. ’ A hand gently touched my shoulder. I peeled my face off the window and looked around in confusion. It took me a few blinks to recognize where I was.

  ‘Shit. ’ I sighed, making the flight attendant with the bright yellow hair raise her eyebrows in surprise. ‘Uh, thanks. ’

  I unbuckled and tried to concentrate on getting out of the seat without falling over, the vodka still dancing in my head. Thankfully the plane was practically empty, so I didn’t have to fight with passengers to get my luggage. I pulled it down from the overhead compartment and nearly knocked myself out when it hit the top of my head.

  ‘Can I help you with that?’ a male attendant offered, eyeing me nervously.

  ‘No, I got it,’ I insisted, flushing with embarrassment. ‘Thanks. ’ I took a deep breath and rolled the suitcase after me, trying to convey some semblance of sobriety.

  I continued up the jetway towards the terminal, pausing once because I w
as convinced my knees were going to buckle and I’d fall on my face. The buzz in my head was fading, and the panic was forcing itself to the surface. If I was going to make it through this airport without collapsing, then I needed a little help.

  14

  Just Like Your Mother

  MY PHONE VIBRATED IN MY HAND AS SOON as I switched it off airplane mode, just as I’d anticipated it would.

  ‘Hi,’ I said, closing my eyes and leaning my head back against the wall.

  ‘Where are you?’ Sara asked, her voice steady but with a hint of unease.

  ‘Umm …’ I paused, swallowing the lump in my throat. ‘I don’t know. Outside a bar. ’

  ‘You were drinking?’

  I remained quiet, waiting for the vodka to coat my insides with its numbing potency.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered, biting my lip, which refused to stop quivering. ‘I can’t do this, Sara. I … can’t …’

  ‘It’s okay. I’m here. Just tell me where you are. ’

  ‘Uh … still in the terminal,’ I looked around, ignoring the glances shot in my direction.

  ‘Follow the signs to baggage claim. I’m here,’ she instructed, her voice calm and soothing.

  ‘Okay,’ I choked, grabbing the handle of my suitcase and standing up from the bench. I paused for a moment to steady myself. My feet haphazardly carried me towards the rolling sidewalk. I realized I still had the phone against my face. ‘Sara?’

  ‘Yeah, I’m still here,’ Sara responded. ‘Are you coming?’

  ‘Yeah,’ I breathed, closing my eyes. My insides tightened, and I feared I was going to collapse as I leaned against the railing that moved me along the conveyor. ‘I … can’t …’

  ‘Yes, you can,’ she encouraged me. ‘I’m going to get you through this. ’

  ‘Fuck,’ I uttered, stumbling off the end of the moving sidewalk. I stood off to the side to collect myself and let other gawking passengers pass me. ‘I’ll be right there. ’

  Sara was at the bottom of the escalator, impatiently awaiting my arrival. As soon as I stepped onto the carpet, she pulled me in to her. I squeezed my eyes shut, determined not to cry.

  ‘I’ve missed you so much,’ she murmured in my ear, holding me firmly to keep me upright. I wavered on my feet when she let go. She looked me up and down. ‘You look like shit. ’

  I released a broken laugh. ‘I feel worse. Actually …’ I hesitated, thinking. ‘I’m starting not to feel anything right about now. ’

  ‘Oh, Emma. ’ She shook her head, looking concerned, ‘I leave you for a few months, and you become a lush. What am I going to do with you?’ She grabbed my hand and my suitcase, dragging us both towards the exit. ‘You need to sober up, or at least act sober, because we’re meeting my mom right now. ’

  ‘Shit, really?’ I groaned. ‘I didn’t know … I’m sorry. ’

  ‘It’s okay. ’ She sighed. ‘But let’s try not to self-medicate with alcohol for the next few days, all right?’

 
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