Out of breath, p.47
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       Out of Breath, p.47

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 48

 

  Her voice caught me by surprise, and I eased back, trying to calm my pulse. ‘Whatever you want. ’

  ‘Will you help me pick out a surfboard and a wetsuit?’

  I couldn’t have smiled any bigger. ‘I’d love to. ’

  We continued talking about surfing until her lids got heavy, and eventually didn’t open again. Reaching over her, I shut off the light. I was about to crawl off the bed when her hand grabbed my arm. She didn’t say anything, just rolled over sleepily and wrapped my arm across her stomach – and didn’t let go. I tucked in behind her and held her against me, breathing her in until I fell asleep.

  I shivered and reached for the blanket, but there wasn’t one. I opened my eyes and blinked in the dark. I could hear breathing behind me and felt the pressure of Evan’s body along my back, our hands intertwined. I slipped my fingers out carefully and eased off the bed to use the bathroom and get a drink of water.

  I walked cautiously in the direction of where I thought the bathroom was, feeling blindly along the wall. I eventually pushed the door open, and shut it behind me before clicking on the light.

  As I brushed my teeth, I considered whether I should sleep on the far side of that large bed, so we weren’t so close.

  He’d considered kissing me twice tonight, and I’d almost let him. But I’d gotten scared and backed away. There was still so much pain between us. It was easy to forget in these vulnerable moments when we found ourselves drawn to each other.

  So why is he in your bed, Emma? I looked at myself in the mirror, sighed, and filled a glass from the vanity tray before walking back into the bedroom.

  When I opened the bathroom door, Evan suddenly shot up in bed. ‘Emma?’ My breath faltered at the sudden movement.

  ‘Evan? Are you okay?’ My heart raced as I took in his rigid posture.

  He appeared confused. ‘Em?’

  ‘I’m right here,’ I said to him, gripping the glass tightly as I stood within the frame of the door. He’d had a nightmare. It was strange seeing it from this side, panic followed by confusion and heavy breathing. Then, with the realization of where he was, his shoulders slouched in relief.

  ‘Sorry,’ he said, as I remained unmoving, my hand on the light switch.

  ‘It’s okay,’ I assured him quietly. ‘Do you mind turning on the light next to the bed so I can shut off the bathroom light?’ The lamp clicked on, and I noticed his hand trembling when he removed it from the switch.

  I shut off the bathroom light and got back in bed. He moved over and lay on his back, his arm resting across his forehead. I continued to watch him. His chest rose and fell as he struggled to recover.

  ‘What was it about?’ I asked, knowing it was a question I never answered.

  ‘You,’ he whispered.

  It slipped through my mouth, and as soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back. I turned my head towards her, and she remained perfectly still. Now I needed to explain. ‘It’s a little different each time. But in some way, you’re always gone. And I wake up in a panic. ’

  She looked as if I’d crushed the air out of her. ‘Don’t, Em. Don’t blame yourself for this too. ’

  ‘But … how can I not?’ she murmured. ‘You wake up from a nightmare each night because of what I did to you. How can I not feel it’s my fault?’

  Her eyes dipped sorrowfully. She sunk further into the bed as the guilt pulled on her. I wished I had the strength to lift it from her.

  ‘You’ve worn guilt like an iron mask, welded to you, because you’re convinced that you’re to blame for what happens to everyone else. You martyr yourself for things you’re not responsible for. And you end up hurting the people you care about because you push them away, believing you’re protecting them. ’ Emma remained quiet. ‘You can’t continue to carry that guilt any more. You can’t keep shutting everyone out. That’s not living, Emma. ’

  ‘I know,’ she whispered, swiping the tears away.

  ‘Living in the mistakes of your past isn’t going to do anything but destroy your future. ’

  The truth in his words shook me, and I held on to them with my fists tight, letting the tears seep into the pillow.

  I thought I’d concealed the darkness so well, but he’d seen through my facade – the forced smiles and the evasive answers. He knew me.

  I wished he didn’t.

  I focused on his eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Evan. I’m so sorry for leaving you on the floor of that house. For not saying anything when I left for California. It was the worse choice I ever made. ’

  ‘Taking away mine. ’

  I scrunched my eyes slightly, not understanding.

  ‘You never gave me a choice, Emma. I think that’s why it’s so difficult to forgive you. You chose for me. Just like my father did most of my life – until I was finally able to stand up to him. But with you, it was different. I would’ve done anything for you. ’

  The weight on my chest got heavier the more he spoke, until I felt it would splinter my bones. To be compared to his father made me want to dissolve into the mattress.

  I never gave him a chance to decide if I was worth loving. I’d taken that choice away from him – because I feared what it would be.

  ‘Then be mad at me, Evan,’ I finally pleaded. ‘Please. Yell. Be angry. Do something. Stop accepting all the times I fuck up. Quit being so understanding. If you’d gotten pissed off every once in a while, and hadn’t just avoided me or left, then I would’ve had to choose too. I thought I was doing the right thing by protecting you, as insane as that sounds now. I have such a fucked-up life; I didn’t want you to know … I didn’t want you to see that side of me. ’

  ‘What side?’

  ‘The side that I hate,’ she shared with a strained voice. She’d reached her limit, and rolled over, unable to face me any more. I was speechless; her honesty and raw vulnerability thrust into my chest like a sledgehammer. Struck with an equal rush of awe and exhaustion, I clicked off the lamp.

  I moved closer to her and said quietly, ‘I will get mad at you, I promise. But not tonight. I’m too tired. ’ She let out an emotional breathy laugh. ‘But right now, I’m going to hold you, because you need it, and so do I. Okay?’

  ‘Are you giving me a choice?’ she asked, a hint of sarcasm breaking through the tears.

  I laughed. ‘Yes, Emma, I’m giving you a choice. ’

  ‘Okay,’ she replied, scooting back a little until she felt me. I wrapped my arm around her, and she slid her fingers between mine. I pressed my face into her hair. She whispered, ‘I won’t take your choices away from you again. I promise. ’

  31

  Truce

  THE IVORY CURTAINS THAT HUNG ON THE glass doors did little to block out the bright morning light. I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my head, not ready to be awake.

  ‘Hey, Em,’ Evan called to me. I grumbled under the pillow. ‘Good to see you hate mornings again. Do you want breakfast?’

  I lifted the pillow, about to tell him I could make my own breakfast, when words failed me completely. Evan stood with the door partly open, slicked with sweat, in just a pair of running shorts. I forced my eyes to stare at the ceiling rather than his carved body. What had he been doing the past two years?

  My heart was beating so fast, my entire body was flushed.

  ‘Emma?’

  ‘I, um … whatever,’ I said without looking at him.

  ‘Is there something wrong?’

  ‘Evan, put a shirt on,’ I blurted, my cheeks burning intensely.

  He laughed. ‘Really?’

  ‘Shut up. ’ I pulled the pillow back over my head.

  ‘Would you listen to me if I asked you to cover your legs?’ he asked, taking me by surprise.

  ‘What?’ I shot back, sitting up. I felt my hair floating around my head and flattened it behind my ears.

  He grinned and walked away. I grumbled and pushed the covers off me, trudging to the bathroom.
r />   When Emma finally came out of the bedroom, the spoon completely missed my mouth, smearing milk along my chin.

  ‘What the hell?’ I exclaimed. ‘Those barely qualify as underwear. ’ Emma sauntered into the room in a pair of the shortest denim shorts I’d ever seen. Her tan legs, defined with lines of lean muscle, crossed in front of me as I sat on the couch.

  ‘What do you mean?’ she said, playing the innocent. ‘They’re shorts. It’s summer. ’

  ‘Did you just cut them? Because I know you’d never buy a pair of shorts that short. Seriously, they’re … revealing. ’ As soon as I said it, she tugged at them slightly, her cheeks turning red. I grinned, hoping she would change.

  I glared at him. He sat on the couch, his hair wet from the shower. And still without a shirt. He was doing it to get to me. So I decided not to play fair, except now I was worried I’d cut too much off the jeans. I could feel the material riding up. I wanted to pull them down, but knew he was waiting for it. So instead, I continued outside.

  ‘Emma!’ Evan hollered, practically jumping off the couch. ‘Okay. I’ll put on a shirt. Now please come inside and put on a pair of shorts that cover what shorts are supposed to cover. ’

  I smiled proudly and stalked past him as he shoved his head through his T-shirt. ‘Truce?’

  ‘Truce,’ he mumbled, lowering his shirt over his taut stomach. ‘Do you still want to go to the surf shop?’

  ‘Yes,’ I hollered, closing the bedroom door behind me.

  When I stepped out of the house, I was surprised to find a red, boxy-looking truck with a black canvas top. I flipped my eyes towards Evan curiously.

  ‘Whose is this?’ I asked, stepping up and pulling myself onto the seat. A waft of worn leather filled the cab. I examined the shiny red metal and black leather interior, with its small round instruments and bucket seats.

  ‘Mine,’ Evan answered, shutting the door behind me.

  ‘Where’d it come from?’ I asked when he entered his side. Despite the obvious age of the vehicle, it was in really good condition and appeared to be newly painted.

  ‘The garage dropped it off this morning,’ Evan explained, starting it. ‘They were converting it to biodiesel, so I had to wait a while. ’

  He began to pull out of the driveway. ‘Evan, stop,’ I demanded. He braked and put it in neutral. ‘Explain. Now. All of it. ’

  ‘Explain what? Biodiesel?’ he said with a devilish grin.

  ‘Evan!’ I scolded. The smile dropped from his face.

  His eyes flickered in deliberation. ‘Just say it,’ I pushed.

  ‘I needed a vehicle because I transferred to Stanford, and I start classes next quarter. And I went to San Francisco earlier this week to meet my mother because she wanted to see the place I’d picked out before I signed the lease. ’

  I blinked. That’s all I could do. The rest of me was stunned into paralysis. I finally asked, ‘Why are you going to Stanford?’

  ‘It was my first choice,’ he answered. He continued out of the driveway, leaving me staring at him from the passenger seat.

 
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