Out of breath, p.40
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       Out of Breath, p.40

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 40


  ‘I think I’m doing the right thing. But I never do. Every decision I’ve made to protect the people I care about has been wrong. And I only end up hurting them. ’ My throat closed in around those last words.

  This is what we do. We hurt people.

  I fought to regain my composure. ‘How many times did I have to hurt you, Evan? How many times were you going to keep coming back so I could do it again?’ I inhaled a quick breath as the tears broke the barrier and rolled over the bridge of my nose, soaking into the pillow. ‘I was doing to you the same thing my mother did to me. And I couldn’t let you keep coming back for more. I couldn’t continue to hurt you. The only way to save you was to leave. ’

  The admission that I was as destructive as my mother twisted my heart. I never wanted to be her. But more of her ran through my veins than I ever wanted to admit. And I needed to push him away before I left him as broken and empty as I’d become.

  I tucked my face into the pillow so he wouldn’t hear my jagged breaths. My entire body tightened against the ache that crept through my muscles. Honesty hurt.

  His silence slowly tortured me as my body shook next to him.

  I didn’t know what to say. I clenched my jaw as I fought not to touch her, unsure if I should. The muscles along my back were rigid with an anger that I could not deny. I was at conflict with two emotions: the one that wanted to comfort her and keep her from hurting, and the one that was furious that she’d left me, making me suffer all this time without ever taking into account what she was truly doing to me.

  Her cries were muffled in the pillow, and I could see her body quiver. In that moment of pause, I knew which side would win. It always would. I moved closer and pulled her in to me, shushing her tears away. She cried against my chest as I wrapped her in my arms and tried to assuage her guilt. The guilt that broke my heart two years ago. The guilt that I would have to fight in order to save us both.


  Letting Go

  I PRESSED MY NOSE AGAINST HER HAIR AND inhaled the soft, clean scent. I’d been listening to Emma breathe since she drifted to sleep. I knew the sun was up on the other side of the curtains, and she’d probably be waking soon. Sleep never happened for me. The rest of my night was spent reliving every second of our life together – trying to find the moment she started to slip away from me. And I kept coming back to Jonathan.

  She’d sought me out last night, obviously nervous, to provide me with the answer to the question. That answer still echoed in my head – she’d left to protect me. So she wouldn’t keep hurting me.

  Emma had always had a different way of processing the world and her place in it. I knew pretty much from the beginning that she was going to be a challenge to understand. But that was one of the things that drew me to her. I wanted to understand, to figure her out.

  And she’d been letting me in, a question at a time. It was what I’d always wanted from her. I didn’t get what was different now, other than the guilt. The guilt had absolutely changed her.

  I looked down at her, wrapping my arm around her waist. She looked so different. It was more than the short hair and thin frame. She seemed so … delicate. My body could surround hers easily, shielding her from whatever harm sought her. But what waited to destroy her was on the inside. And I’d been witnessing the progression of that destruction since the moment I saw her staring out the window of the funeral home.

  I didn’t know how to save her from herself. I felt helpless. A feeling that didn’t sit well with me – but one I’d experienced too often when it came to Emma Thomas. Her question plagued me – how many times did I have to keep coming back to be hurt by her before I’d had enough?

  I pulled her to me and inhaled her again. ‘But how do I let you go, Emma?’ I whispered into her hair. I still didn’t know the whole truth.

  I leaned over her and pushed the loose strands back to see her face. She looked so peaceful, with her dark lashes hiding the torment that lay beneath. I admired her sloping nose and her soft full lips. I could never get over how beautiful she was.

  ‘I don’t know what to do,’ I murmured just as my phone vibrated on top of the loose change spread on the nightstand. I rolled back quickly and silenced it, afraid it would wake her, but she didn’t move.

  Have you seen Emma? I woke up and she’s not here. And she’s not answering her phone.

  I picked up the phone lying next to Emma and pushed the display button; the screen remained blank.

  I responded to Sara’s text. She’s here. Her phone’s dead.

  I draped my arm back around Emma, about to actually try to fall asleep, when my phone vibrated again. I’m coming to get her.

  I sighed, knowing Sara wouldn’t stop at the door unless I intercepted her, and I didn’t want to hear it from her if she jumped to conclusions about what happened last night. As much as it killed me to do so, I moved away from Emma and rolled off the bed. I covered her with a blanket and dragged my body upstairs. I was hoping I’d be able to put Sara at ease quickly so I could return to bed before Emma woke.

  I rolled onto my back when the door clicked shut.

  He was letting me go.

  I hadn’t thought it was possible to be any more broken. I exhaled the little air that was left in my lungs and stared at the ceiling. I needed to leave before he came back. I couldn’t face him.

  I pushed back the blanket and sat up, shoving myself off the bed. Without looking back, I slipped out the sliding glass door and picked up my shoes on the patio before heading towards the beach.

  ‘Wow, you look like hell,’ Brent quipped when I appeared in the kitchen.

  I ran a hand through my hair and grumbled, ‘Thanks. ’

  Ren was peeling an orange on the counter. ‘Rough night?’

  ‘Where’d you disappear to last night?’ I asked, avoiding his question. ‘I swear I didn’t see you for more than a minute. ’

  ‘Met some buddies down on the beach,’ he answered. This was code for: we sat around, talked surfing, and got high all night.

  ‘So you ditched the party?’ Brent clarified. Ren shrugged lazily.

  ‘Wanna go surfing?’

  ‘I’m leaving for the airport in a couple of hours,’ I told him.

  ‘I’ll go,’ Brent agreed, true to form.

  Nate appeared on the stairs, his body moving clumsily and his eyes almost completely closed. I was half convinced he was sleepwalking until he muttered, ‘Fuck. This place is a disaster. ’ The house smelled of stale beer and was wrecked, with cups and trash everywhere – the typical after-party effects. I’d seen worse.

  ‘We’ll pick up the trash,’ Brent assured him. ‘What time is the cleaning crew getting here?’

  ‘Noon. ’ Nate yawned, rubbing his face with both hands.

  The front door shook with loud, banging knocks. ‘Holy fuck! Who the hell is that?’ Nate held the sides of his head, pressing it together like the loud noise might split it open.

  ‘I got it. ’ I sighed, knowing exactly who it was.

  ‘Where is she, Evan?’ Sara asked impatiently, practically pushing me out of the way.

  ‘She’s still sleeping,’ I told her, shutting the door behind her.

  ‘Who?’ Ren asked. Brent and Nate stared at me like I’d confessed to a crime.

  ‘No. Fucking. Way,’ Brent gaped, shaking his head.

  ‘Don’t tell me you did what I think you did,’ Nate begged.

  ‘Relax. ’ I held up my hands in defence. ‘We just talked. She fell asleep. And that’s it. ’

  ‘She fell asleep in your bed,’ Sara snapped. Then she said so only I could hear her, ‘Sleeping with her is not going to fix things. ’

  I released an annoyed breath. ‘What the hell? Nothing happened. ’

  Sara disappeared down the stairs. I turned towards the guys, who were still staring at me. ‘Are we clening this place, or what?’

  ‘Emma!’ I heard Sara yell. She was shuttin
g the glass door and hurrying across the patio. I waited for her to catch up before continuing down the stairs.

  Sara didn’t say anything to me until we reached the beach. ‘Are you okay?’

  I shrugged, not knowing how to answer that question. I felt anything but okay. I felt … lost.

  ‘Why’d you go back to see Evan last night?’ She watched me carefully. I averted my eyes towards the sand, focused on the receding water sinking into its surface.

  ‘I decided to tell him why I left. He wanted to know. He deserved to know. So I told him. ’

  ‘What did you tell him exactly?’ Sara asked.

  I repeated what I’d said to her two years ago. ‘I left to protect him from being hurt by me again. ’ My chest ached repeating it.

  ‘And … what did he say?’ Sara coaxed gently, like she was pulling on a fragile piece of string and feared which question would leave her with a broken end.

  The constriction in my throat kept my answer trapped. I fought the sting of tears in my eyes, blinking up at the clouds.

  ‘Nothing,’ my voice strained. ‘He didn’t say anything. ’

  ‘You don’t want him to hate you any more, do you?’ Sara asked simply. I shook my head.

  ‘But I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me either,’ I rasped, crushed by the thought of it. ‘You were right …’

  ‘About what?’ Sara asked, the sympathy weighing heavily in her voice.

  ‘Leaving him was the worst mistake of my life. ’ I stopped walking, covering my eyes with both hands as I released a silent sob.

  ‘Are you going to tell me what happened?’ Nate asked, lingering just outside my bedroom as I threw clothes in a bag.

  ‘No. ’ I shook my head, wanting to keep Emma’s confession to myself. ‘But I have a lot of thinking to do. ’

  ‘Did it change your mind?’ he questioned, crossing his arms as he leaned against the doorframe.

  ‘About this trip? No, this has always been my decision. It doesn’t have anything to do with Emma,’ I replied, having committed to this way before last night. ‘But I’m not sure what’s going to happen when I get back. ’

  ‘That bad?’ Nate interpreted.

  I shook my head, ‘No, I just … I need to think. ’

  ‘Whatever happens, Evan,’ Nate said, his voice careful, ‘I won’t let you become that guy again. I saw what she did to you, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again, even if you end up hating me. ’

  ‘I get it,’ I told him. ‘And I won’t ever be like that again. I swear to you. ’

  He nodded in acceptance. ‘Hey, isn’t your flight taking off kinda soon?’ He stretched his arms above his head.

  ‘No, it’s this afternoon,’ I responded, stuffing a jacket in my bag. ‘I need to stop by and see Emma before we go. ’

  ‘No problem,’ he agreed. ‘But I swear I thought you said your flight was this morning. ’

  ‘Let me check. ’ I took out my phone and pulled up the itinerary my mother had sent. ‘Fuck. My flight’s in an hour. We’ve gotta go. ’

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