Out of breath, p.34
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       Out of Breath, p.34

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 34


  ‘Run with me. ’

  Emma looked down at me as if I’d just asked her to go skinny-dipping in the freezing ocean. I chuckled. ‘Come on, what else do you have to do?’

  I couldn’t believe I was actually thinking about it. I pushed my chair back. ‘Fine,’ I grumbled. ‘Let me get my stuff. ’

  I ignored the grin that spread across his face, and crept back into the house. What was I thinking?

  When I returned a few minutes later, Evan was sitting at the bottom of the stairs.

  ‘Don’t expect much,’ I told him, making him stand up quickly and turn around. Seeing me at the top of the stairs in my running gear made that smile emerge again. The smile that I couldn’t look at for more than a second without my heart thrusting to life and my cheeks igniting.

  I let my feet carry me down the steps and followed him closer to the water, where the sand was firm. We eased into a slow run, and my muscles complained. They weren’t fond of being woken this early either.

  ‘See, it’s not so bad,’ Evan said.

  I groaned. ‘My body is totally freaking out. ’

  Evan laughed, evidently amused by my suffering.

  As we continued, the muscles in my legs began to loosen and my lungs didn’t fight the air being sucked into them. The fatigue was replaced by adrenaline, and my pace naturally picked up.

  ‘Not tired any more, huh?’

  My heart beat in my ears as I pushed myself to keep up with her. The tiredness in her eyes was replaced by determination; she was fixated on what lay ahead of her. I liked it.

  ‘It’s been too long since I’ve run,’ she explained, not sounding half as out of breath as I was. ‘It feels good. ’ Then she tilted her head up at me, wearing a playful smile that I recognized but hadn’t seen in a while. ‘But I still hate mornings. ’

  I laughed. We ran to a set of rocks breaking up the sandy beach and turned back towards the house. As exhausted as this run was making me, I didn’t want it to end. For the first time since I’d arrived, she looked at peace, and I didn’t want it to disappear when our legs stopped moving.

  As soon as the house came into sight, she dug into the sand and her stride lengthened. There was no way I was going to keep up, so I let her go ahead without me. She pushed her body for everything it had, and the sight of it was breathtaking. I almost tripped over a rock, mesmerized by the grace and power that catapulted her down the packed sand, leaving a trail of divots in her wake.

  When I caught up with her she was pacing with her hands on her hips, trying to catch her breath. I stood and just watched her, the sweat running along her face, the wind blowing her hair wildly around her. She paused and looked at me curiously, as if trying to read my thoughts. I wished I could have told her what they were.

  ‘I’m going to continue to the house,’ I finally said. ‘Thanks for running with me. ’

  She nodded. ‘Sure. ’

  I picked up my feet, despite their defiance, and continued back along the beach. I looked over my shoulder and faltered at the sight of her pulling her shirt over her head. Still jogging, I glanced back at her dark silhouette wrapped in the grey fog. My pace slowed. I couldn’t force myself to look away. I stumbled to a stop when she kicked off her shoes and slid her shorts over her hips. The thick fog provided enough of a curtain so she remained a shadow along the beach. But I was mesmerized by the lines of her thin body. I inhaled, trying to calm my quickened pulse. She walked casually into the water, not reacting to the cold as it rose up her legs until it lapped against her thighs.

  She dived under a wave, emerging on the other side. Her head bobbed in the water, dissolving her into the hues of grey. Enraptured, I hadn’t realized that I was walking closer until I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. I was shaken out of the trance when Cole emerged onto the deck with a towel in his hand.

  I backed away and broke into a jog, hoping the morning haze had concealed me from his view. My heart rate still hadn’t recovered, and I knew I needed to push what I’d seen away if I was going to be around her again. I accelerated into a full-out sprint when I spotted the stairs to leading Nate’s.

  I rushed back up to the shore, with my arms braced around me and my lips shivering.

  ‘Good morning,’ Cole greeted me, a towel spread between his arms. He wrapped me up, the warmth of the fabric and his arms staving off the chill. ‘Not a bad thing to see first thing in the morning. ’

  ‘Funny,’ I replied with a sarcastic smile, snuggling against him. ‘You’re up early. ’

  ‘I’m meeting the guys to go surfing,’ he explained, squeezing me. I looked up at him and he leaned down, sliding his lips over my wet, quivering mouth. He was so warm. I slipped my tongue into his mouth and he pulled me in tighter. My pulse quickened as he continued to kiss me, the charge rushing through me as I slipped my arms around his neck.

  ‘I could be late,’ he murmured into my ear.

  I laughed and took a step back. ‘You should go. I’ll see you later. ’

  He pressed his cheek against mine and said, ‘I’ll be back this afternoon to take you to the airport. Stay naked for me till then?’ He pecked my lips, then scooped up my clothes and led me back into the house. I smiled and followed him.

  After Cole left, I headed towards the bedroom to shower and dress before I packed. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep now, though it was still too early to be awake. I had no idea how I was going to leave without Sara knowing. I was riddled with uncertainty about seeking out Jonathan in New York. It had been over a week since he left. I hoped I wasn’t too late.

  Showered, warm and surprisingly invigorated, I walked into the living area to find Sara’s door open. I poked my head into her room, but it was empty. I scanned the deck and the beach, but there wasn’t a sign of her. When I turned back towards the kitchen, I noticed a note written in Sara’s scrawl on the kitchen island.

  Gone to buy picnic food! We’re having a picnic on the beach today … I may even let you hold my hand. Ha!

  I wasn’t looking forward to Sara’s reaction when I disappeared without telling her where I was going. I sighed and set the note back down on the counter. I opened the cabinet to pull out a box of cereal when the thought struck me: how did she get to the store? She didn’t have a car.

  ‘Do you have a car I can borrow?’ Sara asked as soon as I opened the door, rubbing the towel against my wet hair.

  ‘Good morning, Sara. Nice to see you,’ I responded sarcastically. She walked past me into the house.

  ‘I know I haven’t been very nice to you, and I’m sorry,’ she began with her hands on her hips. ‘I’d like to move past the awfulness of the past two years when you were a total douche to me. And I promise not to be a bitch to you any more. But only if you promise to back off Emma if she can’t handle the whole two-week disaster you proposed. ’

  My brows raised at her forwardness, but I shouldn’t have expected anything else from Sara. ‘What are you afraid she’s going to do?’

  ‘I didn’t come here to discuss Emma’s psyche with you, Evan. I came to make peace. ’

  ‘And borrow a car. ’ I smirked.

  ‘Yes,’ she admitted with a bit of attitude, ‘and to borrow a car. ’

  She crossed her arms impatiently and waited for my assurance. I actually stopped to think about what she’d asked of me. I’d come here to get answers. Now I had to decide what the truth was worth.

  I inhaled deeply. ‘Okay, I’ll back off if she can’t handle it. And the Audi is in the garage. The key is in the bowl on the kitchen counter. ’

  ‘Thank you. ’ Sara smiled in relief. She started towards the kitchen, but stopped and turned back to face me. ‘Evan, I’m sorry about what happened two years ago. I want you to know that I never agreed with what she did. I still think it was the worst decision of her life. And I think she knows that too, as much as she swears she did it to protect you. ’

  ‘Protect me? What –

  Sara grimaced. ‘Uh … thanks for letting me borrow the car. ’

  ‘Sara,’ I called to her, ‘what are you talking about?’

  ‘Shit,’ she grumbled, closing her hand tightly around the key. ‘I shouldn’t have said that. Sorry. She’ll tell you. Just give her time. ’

  I gritted my teeth and nodded, knowing I’d have to hear whatever this explanation was from Emma anyway. But how could she have possibly convinced herself that she was protecting me when she chose to walk away?

  ‘What the fuck, Emma?’ I murmured as I stood on the walkway and watched Sara pull the car out of the garage.

  ‘I shouldn’t be long,’ Sara hollered as she came to a stop along the street. She hesitated a moment, then added, ‘We’re spending the day on the beach, Emma and I. I’m going to get food for a picnic … if you want to join us. ’

  I grinned at the peace offering. ‘Thanks. I’ll think about it. ’

  ‘Well … Emma’s there now … alone. ’ Sara produced a small smile before speeding off down the street. I laughed at her lack of subtlety.

  I tossed the envelope in the small trash can I’d removed from the bathroom, sifting through the mail that Anna had handed me before I left, making room in my tote for two days’ worth of clothes. ‘How many credit cards does a person need?’ I sighed and picked up the next envelope, ready to toss it as well. Then I saw the handwriting. I typically would have thrown her letter away, like I had the many others before. But I couldn’t. Not this time.

  I pulled out the folded white page and opened it. My chest squeezed in around my heart. I let out a quick breath and couldn’t breathe again.

  I knocked on the front door and waited. Emma didn’t answer. I knocked again, and still nothing. I looked around the empty driveway, then put my hand on the doorknob and turned it. It was unlocked. I hesitated for a moment before pushing the door open.

  ‘Emma?’ I called, entering cautiously so that I didn’t startle her. ‘Emma?’ Silence.

  I closed the door and continued into the living room, peering through the glass doors, but she wasn’t there either. I was walking towards the bedroom when I saw her foot dangling from the edge of the bed.

  ‘Hey, Emma,’ I called to her as I approached, ‘Sara said –’

  I stopped at the sight of her, gripping the doorframe to keep steady. ‘Emma, what happened?’

  Her entire body was trembling, and her eyes were glazed over, staring blankly at the page she clutched tightly in her hands. Her mouth puckered slightly, taking in erratic breaths that raised her chest in spasms.

  ‘Emma?’ I said, trying to reach her. Her chin quivered as she moved her mouth in silent whimpers. ‘Let me see. ’ I eased the paper from her hands. Her eyes shifted up to me in a quick motion and I flinched at the screaming pain reflected in them. She didn’t utter a sound. Tears pooled in her unblinking eyes. She looked like she was drowning.

  I examined the page, and my teeth clenched at the first word written in rushed penmanship: ‘Emily. ’ I glanced back down at Emma. She remained frozen in torture.

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