Out of breath, p.37
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       Out of Breath, p.37

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 37

 

  ‘I got Sara’s note,’ Cole said when I answered the door.

  ‘Yeah, come on in. ’ I walked back up the three steps into the living-room area.

  ‘So … where is she?’ Cole asked, glancing around uncomfortably.

  ‘Painting,’ I told him. He pulled his head back in confusion. ‘You didn’t know she painted?’

  ‘I don’t think she has in … well, since she left,’ Sara explained. She was sitting on the love seat with her legs curled under her. She’d paused the movie we were watching when we heard the knock at the door. ‘Evan thought that it would help her deal with her grief. That she could express herself through a paintbrush. It used to work for her in high school. ’

  ‘Oh,’ Cole responded with a nod. ‘You thought of this. ’

  ‘I did,’ I replied carefully. ‘It was a long shot. But it got her out of bed. ’

  ‘That’s good, I guess. ’

  I knew he was still trying to figure out what my motives were, despite our conversation on the first night. And I couldn’t get a true sense of what his feelings were for Emma. I did know he wasn’t dealing very well with what had been happening the past couple of days.

  ‘She’s upstairs, if you want to see her,’ Sara told him.

  Cole glanced up the stairs, his hands shoved in his front pockets. ‘Have you been up there?’ Sara shook her head. ‘Then I’ll just wait too. Will you call me when she comes down?’

  ‘Sure,’ Sara answered.

  ‘Thanks. ’ He turned and walked out the door.

  Sara looked to me with her eyebrows raised, ‘Umm … awkward. ’ I shrugged and plopped back down on the couch so we could continue watching the movie.

  ‘You can go to bed if you want,’ Sara said to me as I started to nod off on the couch. The screen was flashing baseball highlights. I hadn’t slept much in the past few days, and it was taking its toll. I was fighting every blink to keep my eyes open.

  ‘No, it’s okay,’ I said, shifting to try to appear more alert than I was.

  ‘Evan, you can go sleep in an actual bed,’ Sara continued. ‘You don’t have to hang out on the couch. It’s after two in the morning. ’

  I glanced up at the stairs. She was still up there … painting whatever it was that she was painting. We hadn’t heard from her since I’d shut the door, except the couple of times she’d come into the hall to use the bathroom. But neither of us had looked in on her, wanting to give her space to … heal.

  ‘You can go to bed too,’ I told Sara. ‘There’s more than one guest room. ’ Her red-rimmed eyes made it apparent that she was just as tired.

  She shrugged dismissively and turned her attention back to the book that was open on her lap. Neither one of us wanted to leave the couch. It was the best vantage point to hear the door open and close, and to be visible when she finally walked down those stairs.

  I stepped back to admire the image I’d created and smiled proudly. Every stroke on the canvas pulsed with emotion. My eyes blurred, and my hands shook slightly from the lingering adrenaline that had possessed me, keeping me focused throughout the night.

  But when I set down the brush, all of the energy drained from me. I was exhausted. I held up my paint-covered hands. I definitely needed to shower, especially since I hadn’t in almost three days. Suddenly I felt disgusting.

  I scooped up the clothes from the desk and crept into the hall. I could hear the television and see the light that shone at the bottom of the stairs. Evan must’ve gotten up early, per usual. I would never understand how a person could enjoy mornings so much.

  I jumped up at the sound of the door clicking shut. My feet hit the floor, and Sara jolted awake.

  ‘What?’ she blurted, pushing her hair out of her face as she sat up. ‘What is it?’

  The sound of the shower filtered down the stairs.

  ‘She’s done,’ I announced, pushing the blanket off my lap and taking the stairs two at a time.

  ‘Evan, wait for me!’

  We entered the office with the huge glass windows that overlooked the ocean. I thought it would be the perfect inspiration for her painting. But when I saw the canvas, it didn’t appear she’d needed the inspiration after all.

  I looked over at Sara. ‘I like it,’ I declared, beaming at the image in front of me. The sun’s bright rays filtering through the leaves made me want to squint. With the heavy strokes of the bark, I could imagine dragging my fingertips along the rough texture.

  ‘Of course you do,’ Sara stated, shooting me a look out of the corner of her eye. ‘She painted the tree in your back yard with the swing you made for her. ’

  ‘Yes she did,’ I gloated.

  Sara released a short laugh.

  I stood before the canvas, admiring what Emma had unleashed. She’d gone back to the one place that would always be waiting for her.

  25

  A Little Honesty

  MY HEAD WAS CLEAR AND QUIET. ALL I COULD hear was the deep rhythm of my breathing. My heart thumped at a rapid pace in my chest. If I could just push a little harder, maybe I’d be able to escape and allow the light to soak through my skin. Maybe it wouldn’t be so dark any more.

  I dug my feet into the sand and sprinted faster, ignoring the plea of my burning muscles. I absorbed the calm as the sun cut through the morning gloom. Just a little faster.

  The stairs climbing up the hillside came into view, and I extended my stride. I gave it everything I had until there was nothing left, fuelled by desperation. I picked out a smooth grey rock thrust into the sand. This would be my end point. This would be where I’d find redemption. As I crossed it, I faltered to a stop, my lungs heaving. I rested my hands on my hips and walked back and forth, trying to calm my pounding heart.

  As much as I wanted to believe I could outrun the darkness, I knew it was still there, ready to take me. Redemption didn’t wait for me here. But the exertion was enough to provide a sliver of the solace that I sought, at least until night fell and the whispers started again.

  I turned around just as Evan stumbled to a stop, bending over and resting his hands on his thighs. ‘Holy shit,’ he gasped. ‘You can never convince me you’re not a morning person again. ’

  A glimpse of a smile appeared between his panting breaths.

  ‘I’m not a morning person. ’

  Evan tilted his head up at me sceptically, sweat dripping from his nose.

  ‘I’m a person who can’t sleep,’ I explained, taking a deep breath to quicken my recovery.

  Evan nodded in understanding.

  My eyes drifted down, not sure if he really did. I didn’t like the restlessness that chased away the sleep. The thoughts that crept into my head when all I wanted was to think of nothing. They weren’t nightmares but whispers that haunted me in the dark, not letting me rest, not letting me go, not allowing me to forget.

  ‘Sorry I didn’t stop by yesterday,’ Evan said, redirecting my attention.

  ‘It’s okay,’ I responded, trying to sound unaffected, though I’d spent most of the day wondering where he was. My distraction hadn’t gone unnoticed by either Cole or Sara. I’d tried to play it off as still being tired from everything that had happened in the past week. But Sara knew better, although she hadn’t confronted me yet.

  ‘You’re coming to the party later today, right?’ Evan asked, walking towards the stairs.

  My cheeks reddened at the thought of seeing his friends again. ‘Yeah, we’ll be over later. ’

  ‘Okay,’ he said from the bottom of the stairs, hesitating before turning away.

  ‘Evan,’ I called to him, making him pause a few steps up. ‘We didn’t get to talk for a few days, so we technically have eleven days left. We can now … if you want to. ’ We hadn’t exchanged a moment of honesty since the beginning of the week. I didn’t know why I offered. It’s not like I enjoyed torturing myself, recounting all of the destructive choices I’d made.

  ‘No. ’
Evan shook his head. ‘I don’t want to do that any more. ’ I opened my mouth, not expecting his response. ‘I don’t hate you, Emma, and I don’t want to. And I’m not going to force you to tell me things that you don’t want to tell me. Of course I want to know why you left, and what kept you away. But only if you want to tell me. ’

  ‘Okay,’ I whispered, my chest tightening with his concession.

  ‘I’ll see you later,’ Evan said, and began climbing the stairs.

  I nodded, then walked back towards Cole’s. My feet suddenly felt very heavy. I should’ve been relieved that he wasn’t going to force me to open up any more. But I wasn’t. I didn’t understand it. It almost felt like he was … done. I hadn’t expected him to give up so easily. But that’s what he’d wanted from the beginning – closure. I drew in a quick breath, my heart twisting at the thought of it. I should’ve been prepared for this. But I wasn’t.

  ‘How was your run?’ Nate asked, sipping a cup of coffee at the kitchen counter.

  ‘Pretty good,’ I answered, the corner of my lip creeping up.

  ‘What’s that look for?’ he demanded, knowing me too well. ‘Let me guess. You didn’t run by yourself?’

  ‘No. ’ I laughed lightly. ‘I ran with Emma, and it was … good. ’ My mouth released the smile it was trying to hide. ‘She’s amazing out there when she runs. I don’t know how to describe it. ’ I got lost in the image of her lean, strong legs propelling her forward, as if she could run forever. It was the only time she ever appeared to be at peace. I pulled my shoulders back in surprise when someone patted me on the back.

  ‘Good morning,’ Brent said brightly. Brent was always way too awake, no matter what time it was. ‘What are we doing today?’

  ‘Uh, getting ready for a party,’ Nate told him like he was an idiot. ‘The inventory in the closet downstairs is low. We need to go shopping. And I have no idea where the tiki torches went, so we may have to pick up new ones. ’

  ‘What’s the theme?’ Brent asked, pouring coffee into a mug.

  ‘Summer,’ Nate replied simply. ‘That’s a good enough theme for me. But we’re starting early, so it’ll be a pool party. ’

  ‘So the ladies will come sit by the pool wearing their bikinis,’ Brent stated, nodding while wearing an obnoxious smile. ‘Genius. ’

  ‘That’s all you think about,’ I said, grabbing a sports drink out of the refrigerator.

  ‘Yeah, it is. ’ He looked at me like I was crazy. ‘You wait until you see the girls show up wearing practically nothing, and tell me you’re not thinking about it too. ’

  Nate glanced at me and smirked. ‘He won’t be thinking about it. ’

  I glared at him. ‘Shut up, Nate. ’

  ‘What’s going on?’ Brent asked.

  ‘Emma’s here,’ Nate said, making Brent choke on his coffee.

  ‘If you’re not going to stop sulking, then I’m leaving you here,’ Sara scolded while curling my hair.

 
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