Out of breath, p.45
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       Out of Breath, p.45

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 46

 

  I grabbed my book and left the room, retreating to the large deck, where a blue canvas hammock awaited me. I carefully unwrapped the gauze protecting my feet and eased back on the swaying surface.

  It took some time for my heart to calm as I watched the seagulls gliding above the water’s surface. I concentrated on the serenity of the quiet beach and rhythmic waves, attempting to silence the letter that screamed at me from inside the house. Eventually, I opened the book.

  When I lifted the splayed pages, something fell out and fluttered to the boards of the deck. I leaned over carefully, fearing I might tip, and reached for it. Rolling back onto the hammock, I twirled the green oak leaf between my fingers and laughed out loud at the flashing image of grabbing it while swinging in Evan’s back yard – the night I was forced to stay there. I hadn’t realized I’d kept it.

  The sun shone through as I held it up to admire it. I felt the same warmth capture my heart as I had the day Evan had revealed the swing. He’d wanted to help me remember my father … and to hold on to him at the same time.

  Tears washed over my eyes. I hadn’t held on.

  ‘What did you do?’ I whispered, forcing back the emotion.

  Tucking the leaf into the back of the book, I turned to the first page.

  ‘Emma, I bought –’ I stopped on the deck when I realized she was asleep on the hammock, a book resting on her stomach. I couldn’t look away as the wind gently blew her hair – strands dancing around her face. The sun lit up her face as deep breaths passed through her slightly parted lips.

  ‘Where do you want everything?’ Nate asked from behind me. I turned towards him and he hesitated, taking us both in.

  ‘I’ll be right there,’ I told him.

  Nate knew what was happening. I’d heard enough about it in the truck when I picked him up after grocery shopping. He’d made it clear he thought moving in with her for the month was a bad idea. He didn’t seem to care that Sara would be here with us … starting tomorrow. And Sara was ten times more protective of Emma than Nate was of me.

  When I gently lifted the book to set it on the table next to the hammock, something slipped out of it. I bent over to pick up the pressed oak leaf and smiled as I looked from the leaf to Emma. We seemed to keep circling back to that tree … and the swing. I tucked the leaf into the pages as a bookmark and set it on the table.

  As I walked back into the house, I pulled out my phone and sent a text to my mother. You can deplete all of my savings, and I’ll sign my trust over to you. PLEASE sell the house to me.

  Nate was putting groceries away in random cabinets. I let him continue, knowing I’d end up moving them where I wanted later.

  ‘Do you want to stay for dinner?’

  ‘No thanks, but I’ll take a beer,’ he responded.

  ‘Sure. ’ I pulled a beer from the fridge, trying to conceal the pleased look on my face.

  ‘You really didn’t want me here,’ Nate grumbled, reading me way too easily. ‘But, Evan, do you know what you’re doing? I mean, she’s obviously going through a lot this summer. Maybe you’re going to push her to do something you’ll both regret. ’

  ‘We’ll figure it out,’ I assured him. ‘I’m not going make things worse. Trust me, they can’t get worse. ’

  Nate nodded thoughtfully.

  ‘But I need to let whatever’s happening between us, happen. Maybe we can get past everything that we’ve been through. I have to find out. She’s finally starting to talk to me. And she’s never really been able to do that before. Not like this. ’

  Nate shrugged in resignation, taking a large swig of beer.

  ‘My mother and her sister are taking my cousins to Disney for the weekend, and they’re stopping by here tomorrow on their way. My mother wants you to come over for dinner. You can bring Emma if you want. ’

  ‘I’ll ask her. ’

  ‘I have to warn you, my cousins are Satan’s spawn. ’ His lip curled in disgust. ‘But you’re not getting out of this dinner, no matter what. There’s no way you’re leaving me alone with these kids. ’

  ‘The guys will be there. ’ I laughed.

  ‘They’re useless,’ Nate said emphatically. ‘I’m telling you, you’d better come armed, especially if you bring Emma. ’

  I laughed again. ‘Sara will be back tomorrow, so Emma may want to stay here and catch up. ’

  ‘Isn’t Jared coming back with her?’

  ‘Why is Jared coming back with Sara?’ Emma asked from within the living room. I poked my head through the square cut-out between the two rooms.

  ‘Hi,’ I said with smile. ‘How’d you sleep?’ I eyed her bare feet. ‘Shouldn’t you have your feet protected?’

  ‘I’ll wrap them in a minute, but they’re not that bad. And you didn’t answer my question. ’

  I glanced at Nate, who raised his brows quickly with a silent ‘good luck’ as he finished his beer in a long chug. ‘Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,’ he declared, patting me on the shoulder as he walked past.

  I followed him into the living room. ‘Emma, this is quite the house,’ he admired casually. ‘The guy a few houses down is Mick Slater. He’s a big real-estate agent in the area and usually puts on a crazy fireworks display for the Fourth. You should throw a party. The guys and I will help you out if you want. ’

  Emma nodded in stunned silence. I laughed at the thought of her throwing a party. ‘We can talk about it, Em. ’

  ‘Okay,’ she said uneasily.

  ‘Bye, Emma,’ Nate said on his way out.

  ‘Bye, Nate,’ I replied before he shut the door. I’d noticed he’d been a little more withdrawn around me the last few days, unable to truly look me in the eye. I wondered if I’d done something to upset him.

  ‘We don’t have to have a party here,’ Evan assured me, misreading the concerned look on my face. ‘But the guys are experts at throwing them without any damages. I think I’ve seen the fireworks he’s talking about, and this guy goes all out. I don’t know where he shoots them off from, but they feel like they’re going to rain down on the beach. And if you’re this close to him …’

  ‘Evan,’ I stopped him with a stern look. ‘My question. Why is Jared coming back with Sara?’

  Evan rubbed his forehead, keeping his eyes on the floor. ‘He went to the funeral,’ he mumbled.

  ‘He what?!’ I demanded. ‘Why the hell would he do that? That’s so –’ I locked eyes with him – ‘like a Mathews. Wow, you guys don’t care where you’re not wanted, do you?’

  ‘Ouch,’ Evan said, shocked.

  ‘Sorry, sorry,’ I faltered. ‘I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. ’

  ‘Well, I guess it’s true,’ Evan said, recovering. ‘You really didn’t want me at your mother’s funeral. And I’m certain Sara didn’t want Jared at her grandfather’s. ’

  I sat on the couch, my feet throbbing and my muscles aching from standing. I propped my feet up and leaned against the throw pillow to face Evan. ‘Why would he want to go, Evan?’ The image of him and that girl in the paper flashed through my head. ‘Isn’t he engaged? He needs to leave Sara alone. ’

  ‘Engaged?’ Evan seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. Then his mouth rounded. ‘Oh! Shit. You saw that?’

  ‘Uh, yeah. You have no idea what that picture did to us … her. What it did to Sara. She was beyond pissed off. ’ I clamped my teeth at my slipup, hoping he hadn’t caught it.

  ‘I’m sure she was,’ Evan noted, sitting on the love seat, facing me. ‘Wow. I can’t believe you saw that. ’ Evan ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Jared tried to tell her, but she never let him. ’

  ‘Tell her what?! That he was planning to spend the rest of his life with someone else? He should have told her that he was dating, forget about getting married. ’

  ‘Hey!’ Evan scowled at me. ‘Sara’s the one who ended it with him before she took off to France. She keeps telling him she wants to be with hi
m, but then breaks it off every time they’re more than a hundred miles apart. He had every right to move on. ’

  ‘But he’s engaged!’ I stressed in frustration. ‘That’s a big difference. ’

  ‘He’s not!’

  I sat still, staring at him.

  ‘What?’ The confusion settled in. My heart was thumping wildly. All I could see was the image of Evan … with Catherine.

  ‘Jared’s not engaged, Emma. He never was. There was never anyone for him other than Sara. Believe me … he tried. It didn’t take. ’

  ‘But the pic–’

  ‘Was my father,’ Evan explained with a disgruntled sigh. ‘Trina Macalroy was the daughter of a potential client. My father set her up with Jared. They dated for a while, but it was never that serious. She would have loved to be engaged to him, and my father’s ploy almost pushed Jared into doing it. My brother was never very good at standing up to my father. But my mother intervened, and, well … the engagement never happened. And my parents are in the middle of a divorce because of it. ’

  ‘Are you serious?’ I asked, my head spinning.

  ‘Yeah, it was the last straw,’ I answered, resting my elbows on my thighs. ‘It’s pretty much sucked for my mother since. He’s not going easily. ’

  ‘I’m sorry. ’

  I met her sympathetic eyes. ‘It’ll be fine,’ I said without conviction, thinking about the house and how owning two properties wouldn’t have been an issue if it weren’t for the divorce. I knew what my mother wasn’t telling me. My father was forcing her to sell it. Emma sank back against the couch, deep in thought.

  ‘Are you hungry?’ I asked, standing up and walking towards the kitchen, trying to change the subject. ‘I bought steaks for that insane grill out there. ’

  ‘Sure,’ she answered blankly, still lost in her head.

  I stopped at the sound of her fading tone. ‘What are you thinking, Emma?’ I wasn’t sure she’d answer me, but it was worth a try.

  ‘Why didn’t he like me? Your father. Why didn’t he approve of me? He didn’t even know me. ’

  I ground my teeth at the sound of the hurt in her voice, anger flooding through me for every selfish thing that man did. How was I going to explain the inner workings of Stuart Mathews to a girl who thought she wasn’t good enough and that everything she did was wrong? He’d played on her weaknesses, and he’d gotten to her, despite my efforts to keep them apart.

  I walked to the couch, and she pulled her feet back so I could sit at the end. I turned to face her. ‘You’re right. He didn’t know you. And you didn’t deserve the way he treated you. I never forgave him for that. ’ She lifted her eyes in surprise. ‘Image and reputation were more important to him than people, than his own family. He didn’t come from money – my mother did. He always felt he had to prove something to her family, to be worthy of my mother. But no matter how many times she assured him that they loved him because she did, he couldn’t accept that. Once he got the taste of success, he hungered for more, stepping on anyone who got in his way.

 
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