Out of breath, p.48
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       Out of Breath, p.48

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 49

 

  ‘Okay,’ I breathed. ‘Okay. It was your first choice. Okay. ’

  I was expecting yelling, or at least some sign of annoyance. But she just sat there repeating ‘Okay’ over and over, like she was trying hard to accept it.

  ‘What’s your major?’ Emma asked about five minutes into the drive.

  ‘I have a double major in business and education,’ I told her. ‘I haven’t decided yet. ’

  ‘Oh. ’ She nodded thoughtfully. ‘Education, huh? Serena’s boyfriend is an education major. I think he’s coming up tomorrow. You can talk to him. ’

  My shoulders relaxed. A small smile eased onto my face as we drove into town.

  I was trying to remain calm. I didn’t know if I was actually pulling it off, but maybe asking questions would keep me from freaking out.

  ‘So you got a place off campus?’

  ‘Yeah,’ he answered. ‘A studio. It’s small, but I won’t have room-mates. This guy converted the space above his garage to rent out. ’

  ‘Nice,’ I responded, with a casual nod that I hoped hid my turbulent thoughts. He’d sworn he hadn’t come here to get me back. And I knew the transfer deadline was months ago, so this had to have been something he planned to do way before seeing me again.

  That’s when it all fell into place. Stanford was his first choice, and I’d screwed that up when I left. When I’d given Vivian that letter … And this was yet another choice I’d taken away from him.

  ‘I think you’re going to like it here. ’ I smiled softly, rubbing my damp palms on my cargo shorts.

  ‘I think so too. ’

  We pulled into the lot at the surf shop. ‘Ready?’

  She laughed at me. ‘Excited much?’

  ‘You have no idea. ’ I grinned stupidly, jumping out of the truck.

  I walked around towards her side, but she’d already opened her door. As she climbed out, I noticed her bandaged feet.

  ‘No socks today,’ I noted.

  ‘It’s getting better,’ she explained. ‘They’re not as tender, so I figured Band-Aids were enough. ’

  I held the shop door open for her, and we headed to the front counter.

  Evan’s face was beaming as we scanned the racks of surfboards. I smiled at his excitement.

  The inventory was overwhelming at first, but when I found a design by a local artist, I knew I had to have it. Much to Evan’s disappointment, the only longboard with that design was in their shop in Cardiff. We’d have to wait a few days for it to be delivered.

  After I found a wetsuit that fit and selected a few rash guards, Evan and the guy behind the counter continued talking ‘surf’, so I decided to browse the bathing suits, wanting to find a better style for surfing.

  I selected a few that looked like they wouldn’t fall off if – when – I wiped out, and then I came across the dental-floss suits. I held up a hot pink one, trying to understand what parts all the strings covered.

  ‘You’re not serious,’ Evan said from behind me. I grinned before turning around.

  I laid it across the front of me as if sizing it. ‘What do you think?’

  ‘You can’t wear that surfing,’ Evan said with a shake of his head.

  ‘Of course not. ’ I laughed. ‘For the pool parties. ’

  His mouth fell open. ‘No, Emma. That’s not a good idea at all. ’

  I smiled wider, continuing to taunt him. ‘I think I’m going to try it on. Do you want me to model it for you?’

  ‘Nope,’ he responded, his neck turning red. ‘You don’t need to model it for me or anyone else. In fact, if you wanted to keep it on the hanger, that would be just fine too. ’

  I laughed again and walked away, seeking out the dressing area with the suit still in my hand.

  I slid the curtain shut and hung the suits, trying on the ones I was truly interested in and making a selection. Then I picked up the one that was a breeze away from nudity. Seeing his reaction to the thought of me wearing it was more than entertaining.

  I hung up the suits I didn’t want – including the hot pink mess – and continued to the register. ‘And I have the board, rash guards and wetsuit too,’ I reminded the guy.

  I glanced around. Evan was on the other side of the store, checking out sunglasses.

  ‘The board’s already paid for,’ the guy informed me. ‘We’re closed on Sunday, so it’ll be here for you to pick up on Monday morning. We open at seven. ’

  ‘Oh … thanks,’ I replied.

  After I was done at the counter, I grabbed my bags and headed towards the door.

  ‘Evan –’ Emma scowled as we walked through the door. ‘Why’d you do that?’

  ‘I wanted to,’ I replied. ‘Let’s just say it’s in celebration that you surf. ’ I wasn’t about to tell her it was a gift for the day she never celebrated. It would arrive two days early, so officially, I was giving it to her before her birthday.

  When we arrived back at the house, she hung the wetsuit in the entry closet before continuing into the bedroom. I followed her, knocking on the door to get her attention. ‘Do you want to go with me to Nate’s for dinner when Sara and Jared get here?’ She was folding the black swimsuit in her hands. ‘What? You didn’t buy the pink one?’

  A mischievous grin spread across her face. ‘You wish. But I would’ve loved to have taken a picture of your face when I held it up. ’ She laughed, and … didn’t stop.

  I would let her laugh at my expense all day just to hear the lightness of it.

  ‘Speaking of which,’ Emma said when she eventually stopped. ‘Do you have your camera?’

  I hesitated – still not convinced I was ready to pick it up again. ‘Somewhere. ’

  ‘Well, if you choose to, the sunsets here are stunning. I was thinking of painting for the afternoon, hoping to capture the colours by the time the sun sets. ’

  The corner of my mouth rose. ‘That might be worth taking a picture of. ’

  ‘The sunset?’

  ‘No,’ I answered, awaiting her reaction as I paused a second. ‘You painting. ’ The softest flush of pink filled her cheeks. I could never get enough of that either.

  He walked away, leaving me staring after him with warm cheeks.

  Evan continued upstairs while I dragged out a stool from the bistro table onto the deck, and set up the easel. I sat on the stool and breathed in the salty air. It was a perfect day.

  And when Evan emerged with his camera, messing with the lens, I was convinced it couldn’t get any better. He went for a walk along the beach with his camera while I visualized the scene I wanted to create and began spreading a base of colour along the canvas.

  Completely focused on what I was doing, I never noticed when Evan returned. I actually didn’t notice much of anything until I heard the front door close, and spun around on the stool.

  ‘Hello?’ Sara called through the house. ‘Emma?’

  ‘Out here,’ Evan responded, lying on the hammock, reading the book I’d left on the table. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed the oak leaf resting on his chest. I bit my lip with a slow grin at the sight of it. When I raised my eyes from the leaf, he was watching me with a knowing look on his face.

  There had always been a connection between us, since the first day I saw him – a delicate tether of energy that bound us together. But something was different. With each bout of honesty, I was letting him in deeper, exposing the most vulnerable side of me. I could feel us getting closer, with every touch, every glance and subtle smile.

  The screen door slid open and I turned quickly to face Sara, slipping down from the stool. She stepped onto the deck, radiant in a green and yellow floral sundress, a vibrant smile on her face. I would have thought she was returning from vacation, not a funeral – and then I saw her hand clasping Jared’s.

  Sara released him to hold out her arms, but she reconsidered when she saw the paint on my hands and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek instead. ‘Hi! I’
m so happy to be back. This house is perfect, Em! I can’t believe we’re staying here for a month. The only thing we’re missing is a pool. ’

  ‘It’s on the roof,’ Evan blurted before I could say anything. ‘Really?!’ Sara practically squealed with excitement.

  ‘No,’ Evan laughed teasingly.

  Sara shot him a look. ‘You’re an asshole, Evan. ’ This caused Jared to chuckle. She stepped behind the stool to look at my painting, ‘Wow. That’s powerful. ’

  ‘It’s not done yet,’ I said in a rush, fidgeting as her eyes scanned the strokes, swirling in apparent chaos.

  ‘But I like it,’ she said with a smile.

  ‘I know you guys just got here, but we’re going over to Nate’s. His mom invited us for dinner, if you want to come with us,’ Evan announced.

  ‘We are?’ I questioned. He clenched his teeth in apology, realizing we hadn’t truly discussed it.

  ‘We’ll go,’ Sara declared happily. ‘Come on, Em. I’ll pick out something for you to wear while you clean the paint off your … body. ’

  I glanced down and found paint splattered across any exposed skin between my shoulders and my knees. Evan laughed at my amazed reaction. ‘You are probably the most intense painter I’ve ever seen. I’ll clean up your stuff so you can get ready. ’

  ‘Thanks,’ I said, and followed Sara into the house, trying not to touch anything.

  ‘Holy shit!’ she exclaimed upon entering the master bedroom. ‘I could live in this room and never leave. ’

  ‘Pretty nice, huh?’ I agreed, bumping the bathroom door open with my hip. ‘Tell me about New Hampshire. ’ I hollered to her as I shed my clothes to shower.

  ‘We’ll talk about it when you get out,’ she bellowed from somewhere deep within the closet. ‘You need dresses!’

  ‘No, you need me to need dresses!’

  When I returned to the bedroom, wrapped in a towel with blotchy red skin from scrubbing the paint off, I found Sara seated on the chaise with her ankles crossed, texting. She set down her phone when she saw me. I inspected the white linen shorts and light blue halter top resting on the bed, and the wedge sandals on the floor beneath.

  ‘I wish you’d go dress shopping with me. ’

  ‘Sara, please,’ I pleaded, not wanting to have this conversation.

  ‘I’m not giving up on you, Em. ’ Her brows arched as her glossy lips quirked slightly.

  ‘Nice to have you back, Sara,’ I said, dressing in the clothes she’d set out for me. ‘Now talk. ’

  Sara sat on the end of the bed, peering up at me with twinkling eyes. ‘He showed up at the funeral. ’ Her smile shone across her face.

  ‘I know that,’ I said impatiently, ‘but what happened? What did he say?’

  ‘We didn’t really get to talk until yesterday, because my father just about threw him out of the church when he saw him. So he basically harassed me with a million texts, begging to talk to me until I finally agreed to meet him at a bookstore. I think he wanted to meet there so I couldn’t scream at him.

 
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