Out of breath, p.32
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       Out of Breath, p.32

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 32

 

  ‘Now?’ Alarmed, she observed the crowded restaurant.

  ‘It doesn’t have to be something that dark,’ I encouraged. ‘Just give me something. Why should I hate you, Emma?’

  I watched her caramel-coloured eyes flicker in contemplation. She looked back towards the girls, who were laughing and oblivious. I waited patiently, bracing myself for what she could potentially say, because I knew she was going to tell me something.

  ‘Jonathan kissed me,’ she blurted, holding her breath as she awaited my reaction. ‘Twice. ’

  I opened my mouth to speak, but the beating in my chest stuttered and I couldn’t find a single word to say. She didn’t take her eyes off me. It was like she was preparing for me to be angry with her.

  ‘Did you … cheat on me?’ I asked, my voice caught in my throat. She kept her eyes locked on mine and shook her head very slightly.

  ‘But I never told you about the kiss,’ she murmured, her eyes challenging. ‘Hate me, Evan. ’

  I gripped the wood railing, sickened by the thought of him touching her in any way. I shook my head to rid myself of the image. She waited, her eyes flicking across mine. She had expected more of a reaction. I knew it. And I wasn’t going to give it to her, regardless of what was going on, on the inside.

  ‘My turn,’ I said, trying to relax my tensed jaw. ‘Did you leave with him that night?’

  She looked up at me curiously. ‘No. I didn’t. I destroyed him. ’ I was completely unprepared for her answer. She averted her eyes, which were laden with sadness.

  It was difficult to talk about Jonathan, and think about what he’d done to us. But if I was going to be able to move on, I needed to understand what had happened between them.

  ‘Emma!’ I turned towards Cole’s voice, and then he saw who I was with, ‘Oh, and Evan. ’ His cheeks were deep red as he made his way over to us, bumping the back of a few chairs along the way. He sized Evan up and stated, ‘You’re not a girl. ’

  ‘Not that I’m aware of,’ Evan returned mockingly.

  ‘I thought this was a girls’ night. ’ Cole turned towards me, dropping his arm around my shoulder and pulling me towards him.

  ‘Cole –’ I glared up at him, my voice thick with warning, not caring for his flare of jealousy.

  ‘Oh, right,’ he remembered impatiently, removing his arm.

  ‘I’m going to eat chocolate,’ Evan announced sharply, then strode away from us.

  ‘What was that about?’ I shot at Cole. ‘I thought we talked about this. ’

  ‘We did,’ he stated, leaning in to kiss me. His sloppy kiss tasted like a whisky bottle. ‘Doesn’t mean I like him here. ’

  I sighed. ‘You’re drunk. ’

  ‘It does happen. ’ He smiled, blinking lazily.

  Emma leaned away from him when he tried to kiss her again, taking her phone from her pocket. He was trying to apologize, but she ignored him as she sent a text, obviously annoyed.

  ‘Wanna shot?’ Serena asked, sitting down next to me with two shot glasses in her hands.

  ‘Sure,’ I answered, picking one up and tapping her glass before swallowing down the bourbon with a wince. ‘Thanks. ’

  I looked over at Emma and Cole again. She took a step away from him as he reached for her. He was obviously drunk. And she was …

  ‘Serena, what did you mean when you said that they weren’t dating?’

  Serena followed my gaze to Emma and Cole. A devilish smile crept over her face before she leaned in to explain.

  21

  Twelve Days

  I WATCHED COLE LEAN TOWARDS HER AS SHE examined her phone again. He said something in her ear, and she smacked his arm with a laugh. Completely different from how they were last night at the restaurant.

  I stood inside the house, a beer bottle in my hand, as they leaned against the railing next to each other on the deck, their backs to me. I continued to study them. He half smiled at her, and she shook her head, laughing in disapproval. If they weren’t dating, and he wasn’t asking for anything more from her, then what were they doing together?

  ‘They have lots of sex,’ a snarky voice said in my ear. I turned my head to find Peyton. ‘Thanks for inviting us over, Evan. This is a great house, even if it isn’t yours,’ she said with a false sweetness.

  I nodded, still speechless by what she’d said.

  ‘You were trying to figure out why they’re together, right? I saw you watching them,’ Peyton explained, grinning snidely. ‘They have sex all the time. They can’t seem to keep their clothes on when they’re near each other. I know … it sounds shallow, but that’s what it is. But don’t think he’ll be that easy to get rid of. He cares for her. And eventually, she’s going to let him. So leave her alone, Evan. ’

  ‘You’re friends with him,’ I concluded, studying the small blonde with eyes like daggers.

  ‘He’s my boyfriend’s best friend,’ she clarified.

  ‘Ah. ’ I was beginning to understand. ‘And you don’t like me. ’

  ‘You hurt her. ’ Her eyes tightened into slits. If she could have punched me, I’m pretty sure she would have.

  ‘What are you talking about? I’ve barely spoken to her the past two days. ’

  ‘She was hurting because of you before you got here,’ she snapped. ‘And, no, I don’t like you. ’ She strode off towards the deck, grabbing a beer along the way.

  ‘At least you’re honest,’ I muttered, knowing I was out of earshot. ‘And she left me, by the way. ’

  ‘Peyton’s a bitch. ’ Serena approached from behind me. ‘Don’t let her get to you. ’

  I laughed, turning around to find her standing at the top of the stairs that led to the lowest level of the house. ‘I thought you were friends. ’

  ‘With her?’ She laughed like it was absurd. ‘She drives me fucking crazy. I’m friends with Meg and Emma. I tolerate Peyton, and just barely. Come play foosball with me. ’ She turned around and skipped down the stairs. I chuckled with baffled a shake of my head, and followed.

  ‘You play foosball?’ I asked sceptically, setting my beer on the edge of the foosball table.

  ‘No,’ she said, straight-faced.

  ‘I didn’t think so,’ I replied with a laugh, before dropping the ball on the white line.

  ‘I love this house,’ Sara sighed, dangling her feet in the pool. ‘Can’t we stay here instead?’

  ‘Sara!’ I scowled, looking around to see if Cole had overheard. He was still inside, getting a drink.

  ‘I know,’ she droned, ‘I’m grateful Cole’s letting us stay at his house, but this place is so awesome. ’

  ‘It is,’ I agreed, admiring the large patio that encircled the pool, which included a professional outdoor kitchen. The house itself was three storeys, with a ground floor leading out to the patio and an entertainment room that rivalled Sara’s. It was difficult to wrap my head around the fact that this was a vacation home. No wonder the guys had a ton of parties here. Although the last one I’d attended was a bit of a disaster for me.

  ‘Can we please hang out here all the time?’ Sara sulked.

  ‘Nice,’ I shot back. ‘We can walk right out onto the beach where we’re staying. There’s no pleasing you, huh?’

  ‘I know. I’m spoiled,’ she admitted. ‘How’re the two weeks going?’ She eyed me cautiously, swirling her feet in the water.

  ‘Hey, ladies,’ Peyton said from behind us before I could answer.

  ‘Come sit, Peyton,’ Sara said to her. Peyton kicked off her sandals and sat next to me, lowering her feet in the water. ‘Are you coming back in two weeks too?’

  ‘I can’t. I start my internship tomorrow. ’ Peyton focused on me and said, ‘But I have nothing to worry about, right?’

  I scrunched my eyes in confusion.

  ‘Fuck!’ We turned our heads as Serena screamed from the rec room. Meg was leaning against the doorframe, watching.

  ‘Serena plays foo
sball?’ Sara questioned, sounding surprised.

  ‘Not from the sound of it,’ I responded. My heart skipped a beat, hearing Evan’s laughter coming from the same room. Then I caught sight of Cole coming down the deck steps, and I turned my attention away.

  ‘I suck!’ Serena pouted, spinning the handle in a humorous tantrum.

  ‘You’re not that great,’ I agreed.

  ‘Hey!’

  ‘What? You just admitted you sucked. ’

  ‘I think I need another beer,’ Serena sulked. ‘Meg, what time are we leaving?’

  ‘Probably in the next thirty minutes or so,’ Meg answered, lingering in the doorway. ‘But I can drive if you want to get another beer. ’ This offer brought an instant smile to Serena’s face, and she scampered upstairs.

  Meg sauntered into the room, her arms crossed. I waited for her to say something, but she didn’t. Instead, she twirled one of the bars of the foosball table, still not looking at me.

  ‘Do you not like me either?’ I asked.

  Meg appeared surprised by my directness. ‘You seem … nice. I’m just … protective of Emma. ’

  ‘That seems to be the theme around here. ’ I leaned back against the arm of the leather couch and took a swig of my beer. ‘It’s good, though, that you all care so much about her. ’

  ‘What happens after two weeks, Evan?’ she demanded. Her turn to get right to the point.

  I stopped before taking another sip, lowering the beer bottle from my mouth. ‘You know?’

  ‘Sara told me,’ Meg explained, sliding her hands into the back pockets of her jeans.

  ‘You and Sara are friends?’ I confirmed, trying to figure out how they were all connected, and who confided in who.

  ‘Yeah, we talk,’ she explained.

  I nodded in understanding. So, she was Sara when Sara was in New York … or Paris. The only way Sara could truly know what was going on with Emma was to have someone looking out for her on this end. It wasn’t like Emma was going to volunteer the information, at least not the information that really mattered to Sara. But, why was everyone so … afraid?

  ‘Why does Emma need you all to protect her?’ I questioned. ‘What’s going on with her?’

  Meg’s shoulders pulled back as she examined me closely. Then she looked away and twirled another foosball knob.

  ‘Meg, I’m not here to make things worse. I just want to understand what happened. Why she left like she did. ’

  ‘I really don’t hate you, Evan,’ Meg said, completely sidestepping my question. ‘We’re leaving tonight to visit our families for a couple of weeks before summer quarter starts. We’ll be back when your two weeks are up. Just don’t leave her any worse than you found her … please. ’

  I was completely thrown by her statement. I wasn’t expecting this, to find Emma so … fragile. I knew she had a distorted way of looking at the world and her place in it. She always had – no thanks to the women who made it their mission to destroy her. But she was strong underneath it all, capable of doing anything – if she’d just realize it. So Sara was watching her vigilantly, Peyton basically threatened me, Meg asked me to be careful and Serena was on a crusade to save her – it didn’t add up to the girl who I believed in.

 
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