Out of breath, p.26
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       Out of Breath, p.26

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 26


  Opening the door slightly, I saw her shadow disappear below the landing, down the hall. I followed her.

  The familiar scents of the Mathews home filled my senses, and my heart betrayed me with a flutter. I needed out of this house. Now.

  I entered the kitchen and unlocked the door that led out onto the back porch. The breeze rustled the tall blades of grass that stretched across the back yard to the woods. As soon as I turned towards the steps, my vision filled with the magnificence of the large oak tree. And there, rocking from its branch, was the swing.

  My throat tightened as a small gasp escaped. I blinked back the tears and let the damp grass brush against my bare feet, drawn to the tree. I ran my hand along the coarse bark and searched up through the branches that danced above my head, the light wind rushing through them.

  ‘I’ve always loved this tree,’ I heard myself say aloud, comforted by its touch.

  I’ve always loved that tree, I thought to myself as I watched her run her fingers around the trunk. Her eyes lifted to take it all in. She had always connected with that tree too, making it the perfect location for the swing I’d made for her.

  The swing that I’d hoped would keep her coming back here. Back to me.

  I held my breath when I saw her grab each rope in her hand and lift herself onto the unsteady board. For a moment, in the reflective light of the moon, I thought I saw her smile.

  I fought the urge to go out there, to talk to her. Despite the joy that radiated from her as she pumped her legs, I had to remember that she didn’t want to be here. That her expression would change if she saw me. So I remained on the sun porch, watching as she flew higher into the branches.

  I breathed in the crisp night air, the crickets chirping in the field while I savoured the rocking rhythm, increasing my acceleration and height. My hair blew into my face and quickly swept back as I continued my ascent. I closed my eyes and leaned back, straightening my arms and dipping my head so it dared the ground to touch it. A flitter catapulted through my stomach. My cheeks pushed up into a smile.

  She continued to glide in the shadows of the oak tree, leaning back so far it looked like she was going to tip over. The wind billowed the skirt of her dress as she extended her legs in front of her. I grinned at the familiar sight. A warm shiver running through me. I leaned against the open door of the sunroom, crossing my arms.

  This was the girl I knew. This was the girl I’d loved. And although I didn’t know what had happened to her, I knew I had to find out.


  Not the Same

  THE SUN WAS BLINDING ME WHEN I WOKE ON the wicker chaise. I needed a minute to figure out where I was, but as soon as I did, I jumped up. Emma! I pushed the door open and walked quickly to the other side of the patio, past the pool and through the wooden gate.

  I stopped. She was curled in the grass under the oak tree. Her skin aglow in the golden light filtering through the trees. Her skirt spread around her with her legs tucked under it, and her hands were folded under her cheek. She took my breath away. I tensed, not wanting to start looking at her the way I once had. She wasn’t the same girl. And I wasn’t the same either.

  I walked over to her. I couldn’t leave her out here on the damp grass. I crouched down and gently lifted her into my arms.

  She groaned slightly, but didn’t wake as I took her back to the guest room and placed her on the bed. I didn’t linger to watch her sleep. I knew I had to prepare myself for her reaction when she finally awoke – sober and … unpredictable.

  I was back in the bed. My body ached with the slightest movement. I was convinced I’d slept on rocks. I groaned and ran a hand over my face.

  My phone buzzed. I searched blindly for it, reaching over the edge of the bed into the tote below.

  ‘Hello?’ I grumbled.

  ‘How are you feeling?’ Cole asked from the other end.

  ‘Shoot me now,’ I croaked, flopping my arm over my eyes. ‘Isn’t it super early for you?’

  ‘I knew you’d be heading to the church soon,’ he explained. ‘I wanted to check on you. Do you remember talking to me yesterday?’

  I couldn’t think. Nothing penetrated through the shards of pain splintering through my head. ‘Did I say anything stupid?’

  Cole laughed lightly. ‘I’ll pick you and Sara up at the Santa Barbara airport tomorrow. The girls packed your things for you and they’ll meet us there tomorrow night. Call me later if you can. ’

  ‘Okay,’ I responded in a rasp, not really following along. ‘Tomorrow. ’

  I dropped the phone in my tote, afraid to move from my sprawled position on the bed. Then a rush of saliva filled my mouth, and my stomach turned. I fought to get on my feet and stumbled to the bathroom in time to heave into the toilet, collapsing onto my shaking knees.

  I rested my head against the cool porcelain, keeping my eyes closed to prevent the dim light from stabbing through my pupils and into my shrieking brain.

  ‘Emma?’ Sara called to me from the other room. ‘Emma?’ I heard the bathroom door creak open. ‘Oh God, Emma. ’ I heard her gasp, but I couldn’t raise my head to look at her. ‘We have to get you ready. ’

  ‘Just let me lie here and die,’ I pleaded. Another swirl of nausea rushed through me with a chilling sweat, and I leaned my head over as my stomach convulsed.

  Sara was beside me, running her cool hand along my damp forehead.

  The guest-room door was slightly ajar. ‘Sara?’ I knocked lightly, hearing Sara’s voice in the distance. ‘The car’s here to take you to the church. ’

  ‘We’re in here,’ Sara called to me. I continued into the room cautiously, not certain what I was about to walk in on.

  ‘Shit. ’ The word escaped unfiltered when I saw Sara cross-legged on the bathroom floor with a ghostly pale Emma lying on her lap. ‘Can she get up?’

  ‘Shh,’ Emma pleaded, wincing. ‘Not so loud. ’

  I exhaled and said quietly, ‘Sara, what do you want to do? You’re supposed to be at the church in forty minutes. ’

  ‘I know,’ Sara said with a pained face. ‘Umm … let me get her in the shower. Can you call my mother and tell her we need a little more time?’

  ‘Sure,’ I replied, taking in the scene one more time before walking out of the room. I shut the door, gripping the handle tightly.

  ‘Come on, Emma. Let’s try to get up,’ Sara coaxed gently, moving slowly to her knees. I forced my body to follow her, my hands shaking as I grabbed the edge of the bathtub.

  Sara helped slip off my dress and removed the bandage from my leg as I settled into the bathtub, too weak to provide any assistance.

  ‘My head hurts so bad. ’

  ‘When was the last time you ate anything?’ Sara questioned, easing my bra from my shoulders.

  I shrugged, because I honestly didn’t recall eating a single thing since I’d boarded the plane in California.

  The warm water startled me as Sara ran the shower head over my body.

  ‘Here. ’ She handed me a bar of soap. I flipped it in my hands before blindly pushing the lather over my skin.

  ‘I called your mother,’ Evan hollered from the other room. ‘She said to call her when you’re on your way. I’ll see you at the church. ’

  ‘Evan,’ Sara called to him, abandoning me in the tub with the shower head dangling, spraying my legs.

  ‘I realize you have no reason to do this, but I need your help,’ Sara said in a rush, sadness dulling her usually bright eyes.

  ‘What do you need?’ I asked, controlling my tone.

  ‘We need to get her into the church, and I’m not convinced she can do it on her own, or that I can by myself. Will you stay? Will you help me?’

  I nodded, unable to form words. My jaw tightened, realizing Emma was in a far worse condition than I could have imagined. I finally said, ‘I’ll be in the hall. Let me know when you need me. ’

  ‘Do you think you could find some
thing for her headache, and maybe something to eat? She hasn’t eaten in a couple of days. ’ Sara’s voice sounded so fragile. I nodded again and left the room.

  As I shut the door, I was blindsided by the anger that had been building since we’d found her on the closet floor. I wasn’t even sure who I was angry with, but I couldn’t deny that from the moment I saw her, everything had felt wrong.

  I went down the stairs into the kitchen, to find Jared helping my mother into her jacket. I stopped short and tried to ease my clenched fists open.

  ‘Analise, what are you doing here?’ I asked, eyeing the petite girl standing in the doorway.

  She looked up at me with big, sad eyes. ‘I came here for you. ’ Her eyes flipped towards my mother, not wanting to have this discussion in front of her.

  ‘Is everything okay upstairs?’ My mother’s voice was calm, but her brow quirked, letting me know she was very aware of the predicament I was in.

  ‘Yes,’ I answered carefully. ‘It’s under control. ’

  ‘Well, Jared and I need to make a stop on our way to the church. We’ll see you there?’ She leaned towards me so I could bend down to receive a kiss on the cheek.

  ‘I won’t be long,’ I told her, glancing again in Analise’s direction, trying to maintain my composure.

  Jared kept his eyes to the ground as he and my mother left the house. I could only imagine the thoughts passing through his head.

  I turned to Analise. ‘I’m still not sure why you’re here – today, especially. ’

  ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t at the wake last night,’ she said softly, taking a step towards me. She raised her hand as if to touch me, but lowered it again when she noticed my shoulders pull back. ‘I didn’t expect you to go. ’

  ‘Really? I never even considered not going. ’

  She lowered her eyes, the realization of what that statement meant not sitting well. ‘I thought … I thought you didn’t want anything to do with her?’

  I didn’t say anything. That had been the truth, once. And Analise knew that better than anyone. It was hurt and anger wrapped in confusion that had me repeatedly saying that I was over Emma. That I didn’t care if I ever saw her again. But …

  Right around the time my mother started letting me travel again, allowing me to be within hours of Emma without her knowing it – those thoughts started to change.

  ‘Analise, really, what do you want?’ She lifted her head in surprise at my tone. ‘We haven’t even spoken since last summer. I don’t understand why you’re here other than the fact that you know Emma’s in Weslyn. ’

  Analise’s eyes glistened as her lower lip jutted out slightly. ‘I didn’t want you to get hurt again. I was worried about you, and thought … I thought you might need a friend. Because I still care about you, Evan. And I was hoping to be that friend for you, like I used to be. ’

  I suddenly felt guilty for my impatient tone. I believed she did have my well-being in mind, but that didn’t mean I wanted her here. ‘I don’t think we can be friends again, Analise. Not after what happened. I’m sorry. ’