Out of breath, p.43
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       Out of Breath, p.43

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 43


  I opened myself up and kicked to the top, breaking through the surface with a heart-wrenching cry. The water lapped around my neck and splashed onto my face as I bellowed in pain, my chest caving with each sob.

  I forced myself towards shore, crashing my arms through the surface, pulling the water towards me, kicking fiercely. My feet eventually pushed into the sand.

  I splashed through the shallow water, moving my legs faster beneath me until I reached the beach. And then I broke into a run, letting pieces of me fall along the way. Shedding the young girl who feared which of her mother’s personalities would enter the house each night. Stripping off the belief that if I were perfect, I’d be easier to love. Stomping on the doubts that made me question my worth, never feeling like I was enough. And crushing the guilt that convinced me I would hurt everyone I cared about, leaving me incapable of being loved.

  My legs carried me away from that girl, desperate to leave her behind. My stride picked up, and the tears streamed with the water and sweat. I cried for the little girl who lost her father but never had a mother. I cried for the girl who only wanted to be accepted, but was never enough. I cried for the girl who suffered unfathomable pain at the hands of hate. I cried for the girl who deserved to be loved but didn’t know how.

  In time, my legs just carried me along the water’s edge, my breath evened out and the pain subsided. The tightness in my chest loosened, and the fear and sadness drifted away.

  I released a part of me with each step, not knowing who would be left when I stopped running. So I kept going, afraid to find out, though my muscles screamed for rest. After stretches of sand and rocks, my lungs burned and my vision wavered. My tongue felt pasty in my mouth, and I could barely lift my feet.

  I needed to stop. I looked ahead to where the surfers bobbed in the water, sitting on their boards. I drew a line. That’s where it would end, and I could stop running – and just be.

  I faltered the last few steps over the line and fell upon my knees. My entire body trembled, and a wave of heat floated from my skin. I sat back, but ended up tumbling over onto my back, staring up at the bright blue sky. A face peered over me. I squinted, having a hard time focusing.

  ‘Emma?’ I heard the girl say.

  I squinted harder, and blonde hair and big brown eyes came into view. ‘Nika?’

  ‘What are you doing out here? Where’d you come from?’ she asked, offering me her hand to pull me up.

  I stared up at her, unable to move.

  ‘Cole’s,’ I murmured, my head hazy.

  ‘Did she say Cole’s?’ a voiced asked. ‘She must be delusional, because that’s frickin’ far. ’

  ‘Drink this,’ another girl said, kneeling next to me and placing a cold bottle in my hand.

  Cool water soaked into my tongue, and I wanted to sigh in relief. My hand shook as I tipped it back, unable to take more than a sip at a time.

  ‘Can we drive you back to Cole’s?’ Nika offered.

  I shook my head, my words failing me.

  ‘Where can we drop you?’ the brunette beside me asked.

  ‘Nate’s,’ I blurted, still trying to get my bearings as everything swirled around me.

  I knocked on the door, and no one answered. I didn’t hesitate to see if it was locked, and when the door opened I kept going. There was something off, and I knew it. I hadn’t been able to shake the feeling since last night. And the fact that Nate said no one had answered when he stopped by –

  I wished he had just walked in.

  I rushed from room to room, but no one was around. When I entered the master bedroom, I hesitated. Cole’s stuff was gone. Only Emma’s things were here. He’d left.

  ‘Shit,’ I murmured, returning to the living room. The glass door was open. I stepped out on the deck and scanned the blankets and towels spread upon the beach. I was about to walk down the steps when my phone vibrated.

  ‘Evan, are you back?’

  ‘Yeah, Nate. I’m at Cole’s, looking for Emma. ’ I continued to search for her on the beach.

  ‘She’s here, with us,’ he told me. ‘But, umm … she’s a bit dehydrated. ’

  His careful choice of words made me stop moving. ‘What do you mean, “a bit dehydrated”? Where are you? And why is she dehydrated?’

  ‘We’re at the house. Nika found her on some beach a ways from here and dropped her off,’ he explained. ‘Turn up the air conditioning, and make sure she doesn’t lie down,’ he instructed someone in the room.

  ‘What’s wrong with her, Nate?’ I demanded, anxiety building. I left the house and started running towards Nate’s, the phone still to my ear.

  ‘She’s not throwing up,’ he told me, which confused me more. ‘Evan, she’s just really dehydrated and overheated. ’

  ‘You’re freaking me out here,’ I said loudly. ‘Is she okay? Does she need to go to the hospital?’

  ‘Shit, did you see her feet?’ TJ bellowed from somewhere.

  ‘What?!’ I yelled. ‘What the fuck, Nate?! Does she need to go to the hospital?!’

  ‘He wants to know if we should take her to the hospital?’ Nate called away from the phone.

  ‘No hospital!’ I heard Emma yell.

  ‘She doesn’t want to go to the hospital,’ Nate repeated.

  ‘I heard that,’ I said with a sigh, not surprised. ‘I’ll be right there. ’

  When I arrived at the house, I thrust the door open and found Emma sitting on the couch. Her skin was shiny and red, and her hair was plastered with dried sweat. She slouched against the cushions like she’d used up every ounce of energy.

  ‘Hey,’ I greeted gently, sitting next to her.

  She squinted. ‘Evan?’

  ‘Yeah, I’m here,’ I assured her.

  ‘You left. ’ She tilted her head back clumsily and tried to focus on me

  ‘I did. ’

  ‘You left,’ she repeated in a pained whisper.

  ‘But I’m back,’ I assured her, disturbed by her reaction. ‘And I have your phone. ’

  ‘Oh. You came back to give me my phone. ’

  ‘No,’ I answered quickly. ‘For you … I mean …’ I clenched my teeth with a grimace at the inadvertent honesty. Hoping she was too out of it to pick up on it, I continued, ‘I was only gone for a couple of days, and now I’m back. Okay?’

  ‘Okay,’ she answered in an exhausted breath, and repeated with a hint of a smile, ‘You didn’t leave. ’

  The side of my lip crept up at the relief on her face. ‘No, I didn’t leave. ’ I ran my hand along the side of her cheek; fine salt brushed off her skin onto my fingertips.

  ‘There’s some of that water with electrolytes in the fridge,’ Nate told TJ, who went to retrieve it.

  TJ offered her the bottle of water, and her trembling hands couldn’t open it.

  I took it from her and twisted the cap off before handing it back. She pressed her face against the leather couch and took small, slow sips.

  I stood up to talk to Nate, who was standing at the end of the couch. ‘Do you really think she’ll be okay?’ I murmured, glancing down at her. Before he could answer, I exclaimed, ‘What the hell?!’

  The bottoms of her feet were red and raw, and there was blood splattered on the back of her leg from a cut on her heel.

  ‘I called a friend for advice,’ Nate said. ‘One of the girls I race with, she’s in her last year of nursing school. I sent Ren to pick up Popsicles and some more drinks with electrolytes. I know you’re worried. But I think she’ll be fine. I mean, she’s going to be sore as fuck tomorrow, but I’ve seen worse at the marathons I’ve run. ’

  ‘I’m not sure that made me feel better, Nate,’ I answered curtly.

  Emma sat on a chair, sucking on a Popsicle. She was showered and dressed in random guys’ clothes – Nate’s T-shirt, my shorts and TJ’s zip-up hoodie. The glazed look was gone from her eyes, and she was more alert.

  ‘Let me see yo
ur feet,’ I requested, with the towel on my lap and the medical supplies on the table next to me.

  Emma eased her feet out of the bucket of water they’d been soaking in and gingerly placed them on my lap.

  ‘What flavour is that?’ TJ asked Emma from across the table, sucking on a yellow Popsicle.

  ‘Berry,’ she told him. ‘What do you have?’

  ‘Pineapple. Want a lick?’

  ‘TJ,’ I scolded.

  ‘Hey, I was just offering to share,’ he defended, making Emma laugh. The perfect sound. One that I wished I heard more often.

  Before I could begin cleaning and bandaging the cuts on her feet, my phone vibrated. I grimaced as soon as I saw Sara’s name, feeling bad for not calling her sooner.

  ‘Hey, Sara,’ I answered hesitantly.

  ‘Guilty much, Evan? Thanks for calling,’ she snipped, making me feel worse. ‘Did you see Emma?’

  ‘Yeah,’ I responded. ‘She’s here. You can talk to her. ’

  I handed Emma my phone and doused the gauze in alcohol.

  ‘Hi,’ I answered, ‘Shit! Evan, that frickin’ hurts!’ I yanked my foot out of his hand.

  ‘Emma? What the hell is he doing?’ Sara demanded on the other end of the phone.

  ‘I have to clean it, Emma,’ Evan shot back, grabbing my ankle. ‘I’ll be gentle. ’

  He started dabbing the open cuts, and I hollered in pain, tugging my foot from his hand. ‘It feels like you’re using battery acid and sandpaper. ’

  ‘Emma!’ Sara yelled, fighting for my attention.

  ‘What do you expect if you’re going to run a marathon in bare feet,’ Evan shot back. ‘Give me your foot. ’

  ‘At least wait until I’m off the phone,’ I begged, setting it back on the towel on his lap.

  ‘Fine,’ he said, setting his torture device on the table.

  ‘Sorry. I’m here,’ I said into the phone.

  ‘Are you going to tell me what’s going on?’ Sara demanded, beyond frustrated.

  I looked down at my lap and twisted my hand in the cuff of the sweatshirt. ‘You left. Evan left. Cole left. So … I went for a run. A very long run, and now I’m paying for it,’ I explained simply. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Evan’s head turn in my direction.

  ‘Cole left?’ Sara repeated. ‘Oh, wow. And you didn’t know that Evan went to San Francisco for a couple of days?’

  ‘No,’ I murmured, unable to raise my eyes from my lap as Evan sat across from me, patiently waiting to resume torturing me.

  ‘I’m so sorry, Emma. I should have brought you with me. I know you wanted to come, but I thought the last place that you should be was another funeral. They suck. But I really do wish you were here. My family’s seriously unbalanced,’ Sara groaned, making me laugh. ‘Are you okay, really? Because from the sounds of it, it was an insane run. ’

  ‘Life-altering. ’

  ‘Umm … okay,’ Sara replied, sounding confused. ‘So we need to find another place to stay for the next month, huh?’