Out of breath, p.41
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       Out of Breath, p.41

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 41


  ‘He just needs time, Em,’ Sara soothed, sitting next to me on the deck, staring at the waves surging against the sand. I nodded absently. ‘Evan will forgive you. ’

  I wasn’t convinced. Why should he? I’d betrayed him. I’d betrayed both of them. I left Evan instead of letting him in. And I drove Jonathan away, fearful he’d gotten too close. Neither of them had a reason to trust me. Now I was convinced I’d lost them both.

  I turned my head towards Sara. She looked back at me sorrowfully, and I began to wonder how long it would be before I did something to hurt her again. She’d always found a way to forgive me, even when I hadn’t been completely honest with her. But there would come a time when I would drive her away too.

  ‘I’m going to take a shower,’ Sara announced, standing.

  ‘Okay,’ I replied, remaining on the deck. I pushed away the tears and forced the shroud of numbness over me, but I could still feel the ache deep inside despite my efforts.

  I reached for my phone to see if Jonathan had responded to any of my messages or texts. I knew he wouldn’t, but it didn’t stop me from obsessively checking. That’s when I realized I’d left my phone at Evan’s. I grimaced, not ready to go back there just yet. Maybe Sara would get it for me.

  I noticed Cole’s door was still closed when I entered the house. It was way past the time he usually got up, but considering how upset I’d made him last night, I decided to leave him alone and continued into Sara’s room.

  ‘I left my –’ I started to say as I entered the bedroom. Then I caught sight of Sara’s slumped shoulders and teary eyes. ‘What’s wrong?’

  ‘Um … my mother called,’ Sara began. I sat next to her, waiting for her to continue. ‘My grandfather died. ’

  ‘Oh, Sara, I’m so sorry,’ I consoled, taking her hand. She leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder.

  ‘Thanks. He was old. We knew it was only a matter of time. ’ She sighed. ‘There always seemed to be something wrong with him. ’ After a moment of reflection she added, ‘God, he was a pain in the ass. ’ Which caused us both to laugh. ‘But he was my grandfather, and I loved him. ’

  ‘I know. ’ I leaned my head against hers.

  ‘I have to leave,’ she murmured. ‘My mother’s sending a car to take me to LAX. ’

  I’d met her grandfather a couple of times over the years. He made me uncomfortable, with his cynicism and complaints about every part of his body failing in some way or another. I didn’t think he liked anyone – except Jared, ironically. Sara took a deep breath before releasing my hand and standing. Although there was a sense of acceptance with her loss, I wanted more than anything to make her feel better.

  ‘I’ll come with you,’ I told her, hoping to provide even half the comfort that she had while we were in Weslyn.

  ‘Oh no. ’ She shook her head. ‘You have enough drama of your own. You don’t want to be around my crazy family, trust me. I’ll be back in a few days. ’

  I nodded meekly.

  About a half hour later, she was packed. I was walking with her into the living room when a honk came from the driveway. ‘That’s the car,’ Sara told me. ‘I have to go. ’ She hesitated a moment to examine me. ‘Go talk to him, Emma. Give him a chance to accept what you said, but then go talk to him. ’

  I gave a slight nod. She leaned in and hugged me. ‘I’ll be back soon. I’ll call you when I get there, okay?’

  ‘Sure,’ I said, barely audibly. I watched Sara roll her suitcase behind her and disappear.

  Her rejection had stung. The pain zipped through my chest in a quick streak. I was too messed up to even comfort my best friend. She didn’t need me.

  Eyeing Cole’s door, I sighed. I didn’t have the energy or will to try to explain what had happened last night. We both knew.

  But something didn’t feel right. I walked to his room and knocked gently. Silence. Hesitantly, I opened the door. The bed was neatly made, and the room appeared … too clean. When I walked in further, I saw my things were hanging in the closet, with a few shoes and my tote bag on the floor, but his were missing. I peeked into the bathroom. Everything was cleared out, except for my toothbrush.

  I was about to turn around and leave the room when the folded paper caught my eye, resting on the pillow where I slept. I stared at it for a moment, contemplating whether I truly wanted to know what it said, dread twisting in my stomach. I summoned the courage to pick it up and braced myself as I unfolded it.

  I agreed to walk away before you hurt me. I won’t let you hurt me, Emma.

  I lowered myself on the edge of the bed, feeling the impact of those two simple lines.

  ‘Cole, I’m so sorry,’ I murmured, accepting the unwritten truth. I had hurt him. But that’s what I did.

  I sank onto the couch and pulled the blanket off the back to try to ward off the chill that had overtaken my body. But the iciness in the pit of my stomach couldn’t be thawed as I laid back and stared at nothing.

  The sense of being lost seized me again. There was nowhere I belonged. My family didn’t want me. Evan couldn’t forgive me. Sara didn’t need me. The girls didn’t really know me. Jonathan was gone. And Cole had walked away, finally seeing me for who I was.

  I felt so … tired. Letting the exhaustion pull at my lids, I closed my eyes and hoped the whispers would let me sleep.

  I stared at the phone in my hand. The phone Emma had left on the bed, that I was supposed to return to her before I left for the airport. In the rush to make the flight, I had completely forgotten I had it. I plugged it into my charger and set it on the desk.

  The door of the hotel room clicked open. I turned to find Jared with a bag in his hand.

  ‘Hey,’ I greeted him. ‘What are you doing here?’

  ‘Mom told me to come. She said she’d be here with you, and that she needed to tell us both something. ’

  ‘She does? Any idea what?’ I questioned. I should have suspected Jared was going to be here when I saw she’d reserved a room with two beds. But I was too distracted to give it much thought.

  ‘No clue,’ Jared admitted. ‘She told me to be here, so I’m here. Then I figured I’d head back to Santa Barbara with you tomorrow. ’

  ‘That works,’ I replied.

  Jared plopped down on the other bed, crossing his feet as he leaned against the headboard. ‘So, how is the master plan coming along? Has it blown up in your face yet?’

  ‘I don’t have a plan,’ I countered in annoyance.

  ‘You always have a plan, Evan,’ Jared insisted. ‘That’s what you do. You think and overthink everything, strategizing and planning every step of your life. The fact that you took off to Santa Barbara without a plan seems messed up, considering what’s at stake. ’

  ‘I can’t plan her,’ I murmured, staring at her phone again.

  I woke suddenly, my eyes scanning the room. I was alone.

  I don’t want to be alone. Please don’t leave me alone.

  Needing to get my mother’s desperate voice out of my head, I pushed the blanket off me and went out on the deck. The sun was low, spreading golden-orange and red hues across the sky. Although I’d slept most of the afternoon, a tiredness clung to me as I walked along the beach, passing kids running in and out of the water and people sitting along the shore.

  I found myself at the stairs along the hill and began climbing. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to him. I just didn’t want to be alone, and I had nowhere else to go.

  TJ came around the side of the house, carrying a surfboard over his head. He saw me as soon as I stepped onto the patio.

  ‘Emma!’ he hollered like he was excited to see me. ‘What are you doing? Come to visit us?’

  ‘Uh,’ I faltered, a little thrown by his enthusiasm. ‘Hey, TJ. Is Evan around?’

  ‘No,’ he replied, shaking his head like he was confused by my question. ‘He left. ’

  ‘He left?’

  ‘Yeah, Nat
e drove him to the airport hours ago. ’

  ‘He left,’ I repeated in a whisper. ‘Okay, thanks. ’

  Numb, I turned back towards the stairs and let my legs carry me away.

  ‘You can stay,’ TJ called after me. I raised my hand in form of a wave without looking back, disappearing down the stairs.

  ‘He left,’ I muttered again, still in shock. He’d decided to let me go.

  The darkness crept up and wrapped around my heart. I let it seep in, crushing it until I couldn’t feel the thumping any more. I couldn’t feel anything. The whisper of Sara’s words echoed through the emptiness.

  You can’t keep pushing everyone away … because one of these days, you’ll wake up and have no one.

  I didn’t remember walking back to the house. I curled up under the blanket on the couch and closed my eyes.

  The whispering words filtered through me, feeding on the guilt and sadness that pinned me down. Unable to fend them off, I waited for the void to rise and swallow me into the darkness.

  ‘That was an eventful day,’ my mother declared, handing her menu to the server who’d just taken our orders.

  ‘Thank you for letting me do this,’ I said to her, appreciating that she didn’t object to my decision, even though I hadn’t allowed her to be part of the process initially.

  ‘I understand your reluctance to include me,’ she responded, ‘but I told you that I wasn’t going to stand in your way, and I won’t. I believe you are doing what you think is best. ’

  Before I could continue the conversation, my phone vibrated in my pocket. I removed it, and my mother scowled at me. She forbade cell phones at the dinner table.

  ‘I know,’ I said before she could say anything, ‘but I really need to take this. I’m sorry. ’

  I pushed my chair away from the table, answering, ‘Hi,’ as I sought a more secluded location down the hall leading to the restrooms. ‘Is everything okay?’

  ‘I was hoping you could tell me that,’ Sara said from the other end. ‘Have you seen Emma today?’

  I paused, her question not making any sense. ‘What? Aren’t you with her?’

  Sara was silent this time. ‘Evan. Where are you?’

  ‘San Francisco. Where are you?’

  ‘At my grandfather’s funeral in New Hampshire. ’

  ‘Oh, wow. Sara, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. ’

  ‘Thank you,’ Sara said, dismissing my condolences quickly. ‘I haven’t been able to get a hold of Emma. I was starting to worry. ’

  ‘I have her phone. Sorry. She left it at the house, and I forgot to give it to her. That’s why you can’t reach her. But she’s with Cole, right? You can call him to talk to her. ’

  ‘I tried,’ she answered. ‘He’s not answering. ’

  ‘Do you want me to have Nate check on her? She could use his phone to call you,’ I suggested.

  ‘It’s fine. I’m sure she’s okay. I just told her I’d call, and I haven’t spoken with her since I left yesterday. ’

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