Out of breath, p.27
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       Out of Breath, p.27

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 27


  She nodded, trying to hold back tears. ‘She’s going to destroy you, Evan. ’ She turned from me and fled out the kitchen door.

  Evan appeared in the doorway with a coconut water in one hand, and a bottle of aspirin and a muffin in the other. He paused when he saw me sitting on the bed while Sara zipped up the boots that hid my skinned leg. I was afraid they would hurt the raw skin, but the compression actually made it feel better.

  I watched him as he placed the items on the bedside table. He didn’t look at me. If my face was any reflection of how I felt, then I must’ve looked worse than death.

  ‘Ready?’ he asked Sara.

  Sara stood up to inspect me, like I was an inanimate object. ‘I think so. I don’t know what to do about your eyes, Em. They’re so puffy and bloodshot. ’ She contemplated for a moment. Then she reached for her purse and removed an oversized pair of black sunglasses. ‘Here, keep these on. ’

  I slid them on my face and instantly felt relief from the pain-inciting glare. Sara handed me two pills, which I washed down with the coconut water. She held out the muffin, but I shook my head with a grimace, feeling my stomach roll just at the thought of eating it.

  ‘You’re going to have to eat eventually,’ Sara said sternly.

  ‘I can’t. ’ I cringed, swallowing the nausea back down.

  ‘Can you stand?’ Sara asked.

  I nodded, rising to my feet gingerly, holding on to her arm. Evan made a move in our direction when I faltered, but stopped when I regained my balance. He led the way out of the room as I held Sara’s arm.

  As much as I tried not to, I couldn’t stop looking at him. A part of me was convinced he wasn’t real. He looked the same, except maybe a little more … built. But, essentially, perfectly the same. Composed and mature in a three-piece suit that fit his tall frame in a way that belonged on the cover of GQ. Maybe that’s what was going on. I was sitting on a plane, reading GQ, and this was all a dream.

  Then the flash of pain brought me crashing back to reality. I was here, in Weslyn – to bury my mother. My knees buckled, and I fell to the floor. Sara screamed out, and Evan rushed back up the stairs, sliding his arm behind me to prop me up.

  ‘Are you okay?’ Sara asked her. Emma’s body felt limp and frail, leaning into my arm.

  ‘Yeah,’ she muttered, sitting up. ‘I just got dizzy all of a sudden. I’m sorry. ’

  ‘Emma, you’re scaring me,’ Sara stated, offering her hand. ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’

  Emma nodded slightly. She kept looking up at me, but with those large black glasses covering her eyes, I didn’t have any idea what she was thinking. I slid her arm through mine for added support as she grabbed Sara’s arm again, and we managed to get her down the stairs.

  If the only thing she’d consumed in two days was vodka, then she was probably dehydrated, and her blood sugar was way off. How the hell were we going to make it through an entire church service without her passing out?

  ‘Emma, do you think you could at least drink that coconut water before we get to the church?’

  It was the first thing he’d said to me since I’d arrived. I nodded slightly, trying to keep my heart beating normally as I felt his arm tucked under mine. I didn’t want to be this close to him, to touch him, to smell the sweet clean scent that rolled off him and made me even more lightheaded. But I also knew that my body was shutting down, rebelling against the abuse I’d subjected it to the last couple of days, and I wouldn’t be able to stand up if Evan let go of me.

  The town car pulled up in front of the picturesque white church with its steeple and stained-glass windows. The funeral director approached the car when the door opened. Every muscle in my body refused to budge so I could enter the historic New England church to witness the sermon memorializing my mother. Panic held me captive in the confines of the car.

  Sara climbed back in the car and grabbed my hand. ‘Are you going to be sick?’

  I shook my head. Evan leaned into the car.

  ‘What is it?’ Sara asked gently.

  ‘She’s dead. ’ My voice quivered. I gripped the sunglasses with my hands, pressing them into my eyes, trying to hold back the tears. ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. She’s dead. ’ The lump in my throat grew, and I thought I was going to choke on it.

  I closed my eyes to keep the tears trapped. Sara squeezed my hand. I inhaled deeply through my nose and released the air through my mouth to force it away. The panic began to fade.

  ‘I’m okay,’ I told Sara, encouraging her to get back out of the car.

  ‘You can get through this,’ Sara assured me, taking my hand again when I emerged from the car. ‘I’ll be right next to you the entire time. ’ I could only nod.

  Evan offered me his arm again, and I slid mine through and held on tight.

  It was the first time I’d seen her react to her mother’s death – and I couldn’t do anything about it. I just stood beside her and helped her up the stairs to where Mr and Mrs McKinley awaited us. Anna hugged Emma and whispered into her ear before leading the way into the church.

  Emma’s grip tightened, and I could feel the panic rippling off her as we stepped over the threshold. Instinctively, I covered her hand with mine and concentrated on each step she took, wanting to be her strength as her own continued to slip away.

  I slid in beside her in the first pew, with Sara on her other side. Sara’s parents sat at the end. Emma leaned away from me, releasing her hold of my arm and leaning into Sara, resting her head on Sara’s shoulder. I bowed my head in realization of who I was not to her in this moment of need.

  The sermon began, and the murmuring stopped. I didn’t look over at her as the reverend offered a prayer and strangers said kind words about a woman who hadn’t earned them.

  The reverend returned to the pulpit and said, ‘At this time, I’d like to invite Rachel’s daughter, Emma, up to say a few words. ’

  I froze and turned my head towards Sara, whose mouth hung agape as she stared at me in shock.

  Emma slowly rose and made her way to the stairs that led to the pulpit.

  ‘Oh no,’ Sara murmured beside me.

  ‘Do you know what she’s going to say?’ I asked, unable to breathe properly.

  ‘I’m afraid to find out,’ Sara whispered, not taking her eyes off Emma.

  My hands shook as I positioned myself behind the black-draped pulpit. I glanced in Sara’s direction and was suddenly rocked by the memory of her impassioned plea.

  She hurt you, Emma, over and over again. You can let her go now. Don’t let her hurt you any more.

  I redirected my attention out at the drawn faces awaiting my words. Words that I hadn’t prepared. So I decided that in this moment I would be … honest.

  ‘I don’t want to be here. ’ My voice came out strained and barely audible. ‘None of us should be here. ’ I cleared my throat and again looked towards Sara, whose large unblinking eyes followed my every movement as she gripped the pew in front of her.

  She can’t keep hurting you and using you like an emotional punching bag. How many times do you have to forgive her before she destroys you?

  ‘I wouldn’t be able to begin to list the ways my mother has shaped me. I am the person I am because of her, and I awaken each day reminded of how she has contributed to my existence. I blame her –’ I paused, clearing my throat again as I gnashed my teeth together – ‘early departure on an unforgiving fate. Tragedy was too familiar to us both. It claimed my father many years ago. She lived so much of her life in pain. A pain that I witnessed helplessly for years. In the end she couldn’t live with it, and didn’t know how to let it go. Maybe now she will find the peace she spent so much of my life searching for, now that she is finally with him. ’

  This is about you. It’s always been about you – what you want, how you feel, who you want to be with. Why do you keep obsessing over a man who never loved you?

  I pried my hands open
from their frozen grasp of the pulpit. My entire body shook as I walked down the steps towards the aisle. The McKinleys rose to allow me access to the pew, but I lowered my head and kept walking.

  ‘Where’s she going?’ Sara whispered in a panic.

  ‘I don’t know,’ I responded, looking after her along with everyone else in the church as she headed towards the large double doors at end of the aisle, and pushed them open. They sealed shut behind her.

  ‘Go down the side aisle,’ I instructed Sara. There was a stir in the pews as the mourners whispered in speculation.

  I followed Sara down the dark carpet towards the back of the church as the reverend’s authoritative tone redirected the attention back to the pulpit, where he began reciting scripture.

  We pushed through the heavy wooden doors, out to the stone steps. The sun seemed impossibly bright after the gloominess of the church. I shielded my eyes to look for Emma.

  The town car was gone.


  Still Here

  I EASED OPEN THE DOOR AND GENTLY CLOSED it behind me. She continued to stare out the large window, her legs drawn in to her, sitting on the window’s ledge.

  I bumped into a stool, not paying attention to anything but her. Emma turned towards me, her eyes reflective and full of a sorrow that tore at my heart.

  ‘You’re not supposed to be here,’ she said, her voice coated in pain. ‘It’s not you who’s supposed to find me. ’

  The bite in her tone kept me from moving forward. ‘But I’m the only one who knows you’d be here. ’

  Emma closed her eyes, and I could see the muscle in her jaw flex as she fought to contain the emotions bubbling to the surface. I wanted to tell her to let them out. To stop fighting it.

  ‘I know why you needed to leave,’ I told her.

  She began shaking her head, like she could force it all away.

  ‘I won’t cry for her,’ she croaked. ‘I won’t cry for her. ’ She swallowed hard. ‘She doesn’t deserve my tears. She did this. She chose this. She doesn’t get to make me cry for her. ’ Her entire frame recoiled in pain and anger, quivering to fend off the unwanted sorrow.

  I stepped closer, fighting every instinct to hold her, to comfort her. Instead, I remained out of reach. That’s not why I was there.

  Emma became still, burying her face in her knees. She lifted her head with her eyes closed, breathing in the scents that floated through the Art room. I waited for her to open her eyes, to find that I was still here.

  ‘Are you here to drive me to Sara’s?’ she asked, her voice calm, her eyes blank. I nodded, startled by the transformation.

  ‘I sent the town car back to the church to pick up Sara. ’

  ‘Okay. ’ She exhaled. ‘Let’s go. ’

  I rushed through the front door without looking at a single face that crowded the first floor. I gripped the white paper bag in my hand and hurried up the stairs.

  ‘You stopped for burgers?’ I heard Sara snap at Evan.

  ‘What? She hasn’t eaten in two days. So, yes, we stopped for burgers. ’ His voice faded as I climbed.

  I collapsed on the white leather couch in Sara’s entertainment room, rummaging through the bag for the burger and scooping a few fries from the bottom that I hadn’t eaten in the car. I couldn’t recall ever being this hungry.

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