Out of breath, p.23
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       Out of Breath, p.23

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 23


  ‘Are you okay?’ Sara asked as I coughed again, spitting up water.

  I nodded. Sara sighed heavily. ‘Emma, that was messed up. ’ She helped me to my feet, shaking her head.

  Sara waited by the pool’s gate as I collected my tote bag. I was about to grab the nearly empty bottle of vodka when she demanded, ‘Leave it. ’ I released my grip and silently followed her into the motel room.

  Puddles of water trailed from my wet jeans as I walked through the motel room and into the bathroom. I stripped off the sopping clothes and stood under the blast of hot water in the shower until it turned cold. I still couldn’t feel a thing. No emotion. No sensation. No thoughts. And the voices were vanquished.

  I fumbled for a towel to wrap around my head and another to cover my body. The scratchy white material barely covered me. Sara sat at the small round table on a stained fabric-covered chair. She raised her head when I emerged from the fog-filled bathroom, clouds of vapour billowing out after me.

  I avoided eye contact as the room swirled around me. My feet were finding it difficult to hold me up. I plopped down on the edge of the bed and pressed my palms against my eyes.

  ‘I know you don’t want to be here,’ Sara said quietly, fighting her emotions. ‘I can only imagine how hard this is for you. But, Emma, you’re not alone. And you have to realize that you have people who care about you. Who want to help you. ’

  I blinked heavily and raised my eyes to focus on her.

  ‘You can’t keep pushing everyone away. ’ She stood up from the chair, her body tense. ‘You can’t keep doing this, because one of these days, you’ll wake up and have no one. ’

  I squinted my eyes up towards her, her words echoing in my head. ‘What?’

  ‘I’m not going to let you,’ Sara’s passionate plea took on strength with each word. ‘I won’t let you push me away too. ’ When I still didn’t react, she pressed her lips together, and her eyes watered. ‘Do you hear what I’m saying?! Emma, look at me!’

  I lolled my head to the side, having difficulty balancing it on my shoulders.

  ‘Goddammit, Em!’ she cried, shaking her head. Her jaw tensed, and her fingers curled into fists. ‘I’m not going to let you do this to yourself! No matter what. I won’t let you end up like your mother!’

  I froze. My eyes steadied on her. Sara’s face paled when she realized what she’d just said. ‘Get out. ’

  ‘Emma, I’m sorry,’ she cried. ‘I didn’t mean that. ’

  ‘Get out!’ I screamed, making her jump.

  Sara brushed away a tear and nodded slightly. Taking the room key and her purse, she moved towards the door. She gave me a sorrowful glance before closing it behind her.

  My whole body quivered. I fell onto my side on the bed and folded the stale white sheets around me. I stared at the wall as the room swirled around me. Everything inside remained quiet. Eventually, I closed my eyes and succumbed to the nothingness.



  I STOOD IN THE CORNER OF THE MAIN parlour in the funeral home, withdrawing from the mourners swarming around me. A shimmer of light caught my eye across the room. I stared out at the soft blue sky and wisps of clouds as they drifted past the small rectangular window at the top of the wall. The clouds appeared so white against the pristine sky, floating as if carried along a river. A bird fluttered across the scene occasionally, making me wish I was soaring alongside it – away from the whispers, the consoling words, the hands that jostled me and arms that clutched me to unfamiliar bodies. I needed to escape the sorrowful faces and teary eyes.

  Did you hear she hanged herself?

  I blinked, my blissful retreat interrupted. I scanned the room filled with faces. Faces that wouldn’t stop watching me.

  ‘Emma, I am so sorry. ’ A slender older female stood before me, startling me. I pressed my lips into a tight appreciative smile. She hugged me. I stiffened against her. ‘I worked with Rachel, and she was always so happy. I’m going to miss her. ’

  I nodded absently. ‘Thank you. ’

  Tied the rope around the banister and jumped. Broke her neck instantly.

  My eyes jumped from face to face, looking for the source of the whispering. Pain catapulted through my head with the movement, repercussions from the poolside vodka. My vision blurred slightly. I raised my hand to my head, convinced I was hearing things.

  ‘Emma, have you eaten?’

  ‘Huh?’ I jolted to attention. It was the first time I’d heard Sara’s voice all day. We hadn’t spoken since she returned to the motel room sometime in the night.

  ‘Emma?’ Sara inspected me carefully. ‘What’s wrong?’

  ‘Um … nothing. ’ I tried to breathe evenly. ‘I think … I think I need a break. ’

  ‘You should eat something,’ she encouraged. ‘My mom’s fixing you a plate in the kitchen. ’

  I nodded absently, my eyes still twitching from face to face. I felt like I was losing it. My head was in so much pain, I could have heard anything and not understood a word.

  I tried to slip through the bodies, but was stopped with hugs and words of condolence along the way. I’d perfected ‘thank you’ so much so that it slipped from my mouth automatically, without truly hearing the sentiment that prompted it.

  You’ve never thought about anyone other than yourself my entire life! You’re not a mother, you never have been!

  They didn’t know the truth about the woman they were mourning. I knew too well, and seeing the captured seconds of happiness displayed around the room was enough to put me over the edge.

  I slipped into the kitchen at the end of the hall unnoticed. I found a tall glass and filled it with ice before retreating back into the hallway and easing open the door to the office I’d been in yesterday. Behind the large desk was a closet, and in that closet was my tote bag, which contained the only thing that could cure my headache and erase all of these people from existence.

  I unscrewed the bottle and tipped the vodka into the glass, taking a few sips with a shudder. With a small tin of Altoids in my pocket, I left the room clutching the glass firmly, slinking back to my corner and setting it behind me within reach. I remained there, staring out the window, uttering ‘thank you’ to the droves of people gathered to pay tribute to the woman who had never been my mother.

  I didn’t want to be here. I probably didn’t want to be here any more than she did. But I wasn’t here for Rachel Walace. I manoeuvred through the crowd when we entered the funeral home filled with pictures and flowers. I didn’t give the images a second glance, trying to blend in, to stay out of her sight until I was ready. I wasn’t convinced that would be any time soon.

  ‘She’s in the other room. ’

  I looked down to find the kind face of Ms Mier in front of me.

  ‘Hi, Ms Mier. It’s nice to see you. ’ I smiled warmly at the woman who had always taken the time to understand, and often understood more than we realized.

  ‘It’s nice to see you too, Evan. I wish it were under better circumstances. I hope you’re doing well at Yale. ’ She patted my arm, and just before she passed me, she said quietly, ‘She’s in the far corner in the other room. You should talk to her. ’

  ‘Thank you,’ I replied, nodding appreciatively.

  I did want to talk to her. I’d been waiting for two years to talk to her. But I knew this wasn’t the place to do it.

  ‘Evan –’ Sara confronted me with a stern look on her face. ‘What are you –’ She released a heavy breath. ‘I know you had to be here. Really, I do. But she shouldn’t see you. ’

  I was expecting this reaction, but it didn’t mean I liked it.

  ‘Hi, Sara,’ I responded. ‘Can I do anything to help?’

  She sighed. ‘No, we’re okay. But, Evan, just know that … she’s different,’ she murmured before disappearing into the crowd. I looked after her, struck by her words.

  I continued down the hall that ended at the kit
chen and allowed entry into the grand parlour. I scanned the room, filled with familiar faces from high school, and others I didn’t recognize. Searching for her – needing to see her, whether I was ready or not.

  ‘Emma, dear. ’ Her voice stilled my breath. ‘I am so sorry for your loss. ’

  I stared right into the vibrant blue eyes of Vivian Mathews, unable to speak.

  She ran her cool, thin hand down the side of my face. ‘You are such a strong young woman. I wish you didn’t have to go through this. ’

  I shifted my gaze, before she saw that my ‘strength’ was barely holding me up.

  ‘I’m sorry about your mother, Emma,’ Jared’s deep voice offered in condolence. The need to escape seized me. I nodded slightly.

  Vivian wrapped me gingerly in her arms and said soothingly in my ear, ‘If you ever need anything, I am here for you. ’

  My hands shook as I feebly returned her embrace.

  And then they were gone, lost in the crowd. I looked around for them, certain that if they were here, so was he. I turned towards the glass set in the corner and took several large gulps to ease my nerves. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t think I’d ever be ready to see Evan again, but it didn’t stop me from looking around the room, searching for his steel-blue eyes.

  Then I saw her. At the same moment she saw me. Her light brown eyes froze as if she’d been ensnared. The hints of the California sun suited her, but she looked drained and fragile in her dark dress. She’d cut her hair so it rested against her jaw, her bangs sweeping along her brow. She was thinner, the roundness of her face replaced by slender angles and jutting cheekbones. I almost could’ve convinced myself it wasn’t her, but then I saw the blush rise to her cheeks, and I felt my mouth turn up slightly. She was still breathtakingly beautiful. Except for the vacancy in her eyes.

  ‘Evan, I can’t believe you’re here. ’

  I pulled my eyes away from Emma.

  ‘Hi, Jill. How’ve you been?’ I fought every desire to ignore the insensitive girl, and smiled politely in her direction.

  I stole a glance back to where Emma had been. But she was gone.

  ‘Have you spoken to Analise lately?’ she pried, never one to respect personal boundaries.

  ‘Not in a while, no,’ I responded, looking around for an escape.

  ‘She would die if she knew you were here,’ Jill continued to harp. ‘Have you seen Emma? I swear she’s hungover. ’

  ‘Her mother just died, Jill,’ I said sternly, trying to conceal my anger.

  ‘I still don’t understand why you’re here,’ she repeated. ‘I mean, after what she did to you … omigod. ’

  I refused to react to her comment. ‘It was good seeing you again, Jill. But I’m going to see if Mrs McKinley needs my help. ’

  I pushed further into the room, peering over and around the mourners, but Emma had disappeared.

  ‘I thought you weren’t going to talk to her,’ Jared said, coming up beside me.

  ‘I’m not,’ I replied guiltily. ‘I was looking for you. ’

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