Out of breath, p.31
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       Out of Breath, p.31

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 31


  ‘Good morning,’ I said with a contented sigh. Cole laughed.

  ‘Spend the day with me?’ he requested, running his hands along my bare back.

  ‘What did you have in mind?’ I asked, though I knew the answer.

  I was anxious to talk to her. I waited as long as I possibly could, but there was only so much Xbox I could play. I walked over to the small white house down the hill and followed the walkway, pausing at the door, hoping Cole wouldn’t be the one to answer it. I knocked, and a few seconds later it swung open.

  ‘Hi,’ the girl with the auburn hair said to me. I ran through the names introduced to me last night and came up with …

  ‘Meg? Right?’ I gave her a small smile, trying to put her at ease, since she continued to look at me like she didn’t trust me.

  ‘Yeah,’ she said, not making any move to invite me in. ‘Emma’s not here. ’

  ‘Evan!’ Sara hollered from the other side of the room. ‘We’re sitting on the beach. Come on in. ’

  Meg stepped back to allow me access with a tight-lipped smile.

  ‘Emma’s not here, but you can hang out with us if you want,’ Sara offered, a beach towel slung over her arm and a magazine in her hand. I could hear the music coming from the deck as she continued out.

  I wanted to ask where Emma was and when she’d be back. But I knew who she was with, since all of the girls were here. Now I wasn’t sure I wanted to be here when they got back.

  ‘She’s with Cole,’ a chilled voice spoke behind me. I turned to find Peyton glaring at me with a malicious smirk. She wasn’t exactly hiding the fact that she didn’t like me, despite not even knowing me. I could only assume she had some connection with Cole and didn’t want me around to screw things up between him and Emma.

  ‘I figured. ’ I nodded, trying to appear unaffected by her hostility. ‘Since, you know … they’re dating. ’

  ‘They’re not dating,’ Serena’s voice chirped behind me. I turned to find her with an umbrella in her hand and dressed in a black bikini that reminded me of those classic movies Emma liked to watch. Her skin was so shockingly white, she almost glowed.

  ‘Shut up, Serena,’ Peyton snapped. ‘They’re together, and that’s all that matters. ’

  Serena shook her head in annoyance. ‘Will you help me set up this umbrella?’ She didn’t wait for my reply, but handed me the umbrella and strutted out onto the deck. I remained still for a moment, trying to process what had just happened.

  ‘You shouldn’t be here,’ Peyton grumbled, walking by me and out the sliding glass door.

  Wow, I mouthed, thinking Xbox sounded pretty good about now.

  ‘Evan, are you coming?’ Sara called to me from outside.

  I glanced towards the couch, where Meg sat quietly, pretending to read her book. I didn’t think I could feel any more unwanted.

  ‘Yeah,’ I hollered in return, heading towards the beach with the umbrella in my hand.

  I followed the girls to the spot they’d picked for their beach chairs and towels. I angled the umbrella and shoved it in as deep as I could into the packed sand, casting a shadow over Serena to protect her ghostly skin.

  They were all set up and ready for an afternoon of sun – or shade – worshipping, and the thought of sprawling on a towel next to them wasn’t exactly appealing, considering the mixed hostility.

  ‘I think I’ll go for a run,’ I announced, not intending to come back.

  ‘Really?’ Sara asked, but when she looked up at me, she understood and nodded.

  I had just taken off down the beach when I heard, ‘Evan, wait!’

  I slowed to a stop and turned to find Serena approaching with a quick stride.

  ‘What are you doing tonight?’

  ‘Have fun with the girls,’ Cole said, leaning down and kissing me while Sara waited for me at the door.

  ‘Thanks,’ I returned with a smile, my legs feeling the fatigue of surfing all day. But it was exactly what I’d needed, to be out in the water wrapped in silence, the rush of the waves the only sound. ‘I’ll see you when we get back. ’

  ‘I’m meeting some friends, so I may not be here. But I’ll leave the key under the mat. ’ He kissed me again, pulling me in to him before releasing me with a dizzying rush. ‘See you tonight. ’

  Disoriented from the kiss, I stumbled out the door where Sara stood on the walkway. ‘Ready?’ she asked with a grin.

  ‘Yeah,’ I said, trying to breathe normally.

  ‘This is going to be fun. ’ She smiled. ‘We need fun. ’

  ‘Yes, we do. ’ Serena sat in her vintage light blue Beetle with the top rolled back.

  ‘Where are Peyton and Meg?’ I asked, sliding in the back while Sara held the seat forward for me.

  ‘Still in Carpinteria. They’re meeting us there,’ Serena explained.

  When she didn’t take the turn that brought us towards the highway, I knew something was up. And when we pulled up in front of the house, I sighed.

  ‘Who lives here?’ Sara asked. ‘This place is incredible. ’

  ‘Nate,’ I mumbled, just as Evan opened the door.

  I approached the car with a jacket in my hand, smiling when I saw the girls. But the smile disappeared when I saw Emma’s face. She didn’t know I was coming.

  ‘Hey,’ I said, looking from Serena’s bright welcoming expression to Sara’s confused face and Emma’s avoiding glance. ‘Uh, you didn’t tell them you invited me, huh, Serena?’

  ‘Oh. ’ Serena feigned forgetfulness. ‘I guess I forgot. But since you’re here, you might as well come. Get in the car. ’

  I raised my eyebrow at her demand and looked to Emma for permission. She tentatively lifted her eyes and shrugged. Sara got out of the car and whispered, ‘Be careful, Evan. ’ She slid in the back, leaving the front seat vacant. I hesitated, heeding her warning, connecting with her for a second to read the seriousness reflected in her eyes. I sat in the front seat as Serena blared a punk song on the radio. I recognized the song, and automatically looked back at Emma, who refused to look at me.

  Of course the band that Evan and I had seen together had to be playing on the radio. I shook my head with a humourless laugh. He tried to push the grin from his face after he turned around to catch my reaction, but he couldn’t. It was easier not to look at him.

  ‘Are you going to be okay … with him here?’ Sara leaned in to ask me as the car picked up speed after merging onto the highway.

  ‘Sure. ’ I shrugged. ‘I mean, I promised him two weeks, right?’

  ‘But you don’t have to do it if you don’t want,’ Sara assured me. ‘You’ve been through a lot this week. You don’t have to let him drag you through this guilt trip too. ’

  ‘I know,’ I responded, appreciating her protectiveness. I glanced at him as he rested his elbow on the edge of the open window, listening to Serena talk about a band that was coming to the area soon that she was dying to see. His eyes shifted in my direction, and my cheeks warmed. I quickly looked away as his signature amused grin spread across his face once again. I pressed my hand against my cheeks, not having felt their warmth in so long. It was as surprising as it was annoying.

  I couldn’t keep myself from grinning as the blush crept across her skin. I knew it frustrated her when it happened too, which made it that much more enjoyable to watch. I returned my attention to Serena, who’d caught me watching Emma. I laughed awkwardly as her smile grew. I didn’t know how Serena planned to ‘fix’ Emma, but I knew she had expectations that I’d help her. I was afraid I was going to disappoint her, especially since I was barely held together myself.

  Serena pulled in to a parking spot and I walked alongside her towards a large waterfront restaurant while Sara and Emma trailed behind us, far enough away so that they wouldn’t be overheard.

  ‘I thought we were going to Carpinteria for the movie in the park?’ I asked, slightly alarmed to be walking towards a restaurant.

  ‘Yeah, uh, the girls wanted to drink,’ Sara explained. ‘I forgot to tell you. But I won’t drink … so, you know, that you’re not the only one. ’

  ‘Sara –’ I turned towards her, my voice careful. ‘I don’t have a drinking problem. I’m not going to have anything tonight, but I don’t want you to worry about me. I’ve been stupid, no doubt. But it wasn’t the alcohol. It was me. And I promise never to use it to cope with the shit I can’t handle again. ’

  Sara inspected my face thoughtfully. ‘You know it still scares me … you drinking. ’

  ‘Because of my mother,’ I confirmed. ‘I know. ’

  ‘But you’re not her,’ Sara added quickly. ‘Emma, you’re not. And I should have never said that to you in the motel. I was … angry, and scared. I’d never seen you like that before. ’

  We were standing on the walkway as people brushed past us. I lowered my head and nodded, not really wanting to be caught up in this intense conversation in such an open place. I’d actually have preferred not to be having this conversation at all.

  ‘Sorry,’ Sara said, realizing the same thing. ‘Let’s go inside. ’ She thrust her arm through mine and said, ‘We’re supposed to be having fun. ’ She revived her vibrant smile and nudged me with her shoulder, leading me into the bustling restaurant.

  We spotted the girls … and Evan at a table on the deck. From Peyton’s sour expression I assumed they didn’t know Evan would be here either. This was completely Serena’s doing. I glanced at her curiously, trying to figure out what she was plotting. She looked up at me with an infectious smile, and I shook my head warily. Her meddling had the potential to make everything worse, despite her obviously good intentions.

  After dinner the server came over and set two molten chocolate desserts on the table. The girls practically melted in happiness as they dipped their spoons in. I started laughing at the inappropriate noises they made while they ate. Then I caught Evan’s drawn expression. He looked like he was about to be ill.

  I really had ruined chocolate for him. I bit my lip. I knew I should feel awful, but his tortured expression was almost comical. He looked up just as a small laugh escaped. His eyes widened in surprise, and he pushed his chair away from the table and disappeared towards the side of the deck.

  ‘Shit,’ I grumbled, immediately following after him.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Emma said softly, leaning against the railing next to me. ‘That wasn’t funny, I know. But … you should have seen your face. ’

  ‘Really? Thanks a lot, Emma. ’

  ‘See. Another reason you should hate me. I’m cruel. Very cruel. ’

  ‘Yeah. ’ I sighed. Her choice of words made me realize we hadn’t had our talk today. So I turned towards her and smirked.

  She looked at me suspiciously. ‘What?’

  ‘While you’re here, you might as well give me another reason. ’