Out of breath, p.5
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       Out of Breath, p.5

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 5


  ‘Okay, listen. ’ Peyton approached me while I was in the kitchen making a sandwich before heading to the soccer field with Meg. ‘I know the party a few weeks ago was a bit of a disaster, but I think you should go out with me again. I promise to keep a better eye on you and help you gauge your level of drunkenness. ’

  I laughed at her absurd proposal. ‘Peyton, the drinking was a one-time thing. I’m all set, thanks. ’

  ‘Em,’ she implored passionately, ‘you had one bad night. It doesn’t mean that you should give up your entire social life. We’re in college. This is the time when we discover who we are … and flirt with our tolerance for alcohol. I swear to you, there is a way to have a few drinks and not end up in some random guy’s bed. ’

  I whipped around and threw a piece of bread at her. ‘Shut the fuck up, Peyton. ’

  She deflected the bread to the floor. ‘Sorry. Really, that was stupid. I’m sorry,’ she grovelled. ‘I shouldn’t have said that. ’ Before she walked away, she begged, ‘Will you at least think about it?’

  ‘Fine,’ I responded impatiently, just wanting her to stop. ‘I’ll think about it. ’

  ‘Great! There’s a party this Saturday,’ she chirped, and whipped around before I could object.

  ‘You’re going to that party at College Green?’ Meg questioned as she rounded the corner, a soccer ball tucked under her arm.

  ‘I’m not –’

  ‘You’re going too, right?’ Peyton interjected before I could finish.

  ‘I guess so. ’ Meg shrugged, then looked to me. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll have fun. ’

  I blew out a defeated breath. ‘Okay,’ I caved.

  Peyton produced a triumphant smile, and proceeded to bang on Serena’s door.

  ‘What?!’ Serena hollered from the other side.

  ‘Are you going to the party with us on Saturday? Emma’s coming too. ’

  Serena poked her head out and raised her eyebrows in my direction. ‘You are?’

  ‘I guess so. ’

  ‘Okay. I’ll go,’ she replied and slammed her door in Peyton’s face.

  ‘Please tell me that’s not what you’re wearing. ’ Peyton scowled at my worn jeans and faded concert T-shirt over a long-sleeved shirt.

  ‘You want me to go?’

  She huffed before returning to the bathroom to finish her make-up while I went downstairs.

  When I reached the bottom step, Serena walked through the front door with a paper bag in her arms, wearing form-fitting black pants, a black tank top under a cropped leather jacket, and black combat boots. Her short black pixie hair flipped out stylishly around her powder-white face. Dramatic liner framed her large brown eyes. Serena’s look was more than a style: it was a statement.

  She returned from the kitchen with a beer in each hand and offered one to Meg, who was leaning over the coffee table, painting her nails.

  ‘I’m driving,’ Meg told her with a shake of her head. Serena eyed me and held out the bottle.

  ‘Umm, I can drive,’ I offered.

  ‘That’s okay,’ Meg said. ‘I don’t mind. Go ahead if you want to drink. You’re going with us, not just Peyton, so we’ll watch out for you. ’

  ‘Hey!’ Peyton shouted down the stairs in offence.

  I contemplated the bottle in Serena’s hand carefully. The first time I drank had nothing to do with the alcohol. And I never wanted to be that drunk again … ever.

  ‘Okay,’ I agreed, taking the bottle. Meg flipped her eyes to me in surprise. But she went back to painting, trying to appear unfazed by my decision.

  Serena acted like we drank together all the time. But then again, Serena was pretty accepting of just about everyone and everything, taking all that came her way without blinking. I’d yet to witness anything that surprised her.

  I took a sip and grimaced. Yeah, I didn’t like beer. ‘This tastes horrible. ’

  Serena grinned. ‘It’s an acquired taste. ’

  ‘Why would anyone want to acquire a taste for something that tastes like ass?’ I scrunched my nose in disgust.

  Serena laughed. ‘I’ll make you a drink,’ she said before disappearing into the kitchen.

  ‘I’ll drink your beer,’ Peyton declared, appearing at the bottom of the stairs. Her shiny golden hair hung down her back, not a single strand out of place. She was very mindful of her appearance, intently assembling herself from her shiny pink lips to her polished toes. She’d never let anyone other than us see her less than picture-perfect. Just thinking about what she had to go through to keep this up exhausted me.

  ‘You’ll drink anything,’ Meg teased, twisting the top on the polish. ‘I think you’ve probably tried just about everything there is. ’

  ‘Funny,’ Peyton sneered, tipping the bottle back into her mouth.

  ‘Here, try this. ’ Serena handed me a glass with red liquid in it. My stomach instinctively clenched. Noticing my cringe, she assured me, ‘It’s cranberry and vodka. I made it pretty weak too. ’

  I accepted the drink and took a sip. It tasted mostly of cranberry with a hint of something else. ‘Thanks. ’

  While Meg finished getting ready in the upstairs bathroom, we sat in the living room – drinking. Something I quite honestly never thought I’d ever do.

  Was I supposed to keep holding the glass, or set it on the coffee table? I watched Serena and opted to hold it. I took a sip, not wanting to drink too fast. I knew I was being paranoid; I just needed to relax already.

  ‘So, where’s James tonight?’ I asked Serena, needing to distract myself from internally freaking out.

  ‘He’s working,’ Serena replied, finishing her beer and getting up. ‘Peyton, you ready for another?’

  James was a bouncer at one of the clubs that showcased local rock talent. With his shaved head, his broad frame and the tattoo on the back of his skull, he fit the persona. On the other hand, he was a dedicated student at Stanford, pursuing an education degree. The thought of James reshaping the minds of adolescents always made me smile.

  ‘Sure,’ Peyton called.

  I’d barely finished half the glass, and they were already on their second. Maybe I was drinking too slow. Or maybe I just needed to get a grip and stop obsessing.

  ‘There’s a great show coming up in a few weeks,’ Serena informed me. She handed Peyton another beer.

  Serena was my direct line to the best shows in the area. I was thankful to have a room-mate who understood my need for fast beats and heavy guitar. Meg and Peyton didn’t appreciate the genre, preferring head-bopping or hip-swaying music, although I’d recently taken Meg to a few shows, with encouraging results.

  ‘Let me know when, and I’ll check if I have tests or anything due. ’ I took another sip.

  ‘Em, you spent all break reading the upcoming assignments for the next month,’ she accused. ‘You’ll be fine regardless. It won’t be a late night. ’

  ‘Ready to go?’ Meg announced, bounding down the stairs with her spiralling auburn curls bouncing around her. We finished off our drinks and followed her out the door.

  It was obvious when we’d arrived at the party, because there was nowhere to park. After circling the block a few times, we were finally able to creep into a spot as another car pulled away. We followed a small group of people through a gated archway into a courtyard.

  Meg nudged me playfully. ‘There’s a pool. ’

  ‘You wouldn’t,’ Peyton threatened.

  ‘Relax, Peyton,’ Meg snapped. ‘We wouldn’t do that here. ’

  I smirked.

  Two floors of apartments wrapped around an inner courtyard. People were mingling on the balconies and throughout the central area. A half dozen apartment doors were open to grant access and a sound system was set up in the open space, blaring the most recent hip hop music.

  ‘We need drinks!’ Peyton announced, raising her hands in the air and moving her hips to the beat.

  We followed her form-fit
ting green sweater through the crowd. She turned heads as she wiggled by, but she was too focused on her mission to take notice.

  We continued up the stairs and into the closest open door.

  ‘Wait here,’ she instructed. ‘I’ll get us something. ’

  I didn’t think we could squeeze in any further if we tried; the room was packed. Peyton reappeared, her fingers dipped into small plastic cups of Jell-O. She handed one to each of us. I looked down at the cup, trying to figure out how to eat it without a spoon. Squeezing the edges, I tried to slurp it.

  ‘Don’t chew. Just swallow. ’ Meg laughed as I licked at pieces of Jell-O still clinging to my lips.

  ‘Always excellent advice,’ Peyton giggled.

  Meg grimaced. ‘Eew. We’re only talking about Jell-O, Peyton!’

  It took me a moment to figure out what the hell they were talking about, and I scowled in revulsion when I figured it out. Peyton took note of my delayed reaction. ‘Oh, Emma. Are you sure you had sex with that guy from the band? ’Cause I swear you’re a virgin. ’

  ‘Let me get another round so you can try again,’ Meg offered, dragging Peyton with her.

  When they returned, I took two little cups and awaited instructions.

  ‘Swipe your finger around the edge to loosen it and then pop it in your mouth. ’ Peyton demonstrated with ease. I made another attempt and got most of it in my mouth. My Jell-O shot ineptitude made Meg laugh. But I did better with the next one.

  ‘Now you let it settle and wait for the Tickle before you drink anything else,’ Serena explained.

  ‘A tickle?’ Peyton questioned Serena with her brows raised. ‘Serena, you are so weird. ’

  ‘Whatever,’ Serena said, turning away.

  ‘Tom!’ Peyton suddenly hollered across the courtyard to the opposite balcony. To my surprise, he heard her and waved. She grabbed my wrist, causing me to stumble after her, though she didn’t seem to notice, or care, as she forced our way through the crowd.

  ‘We’ll wait right here,’ Meg called out behind us.

  ‘I was hoping you were going to be here,’ Peyton exclaimed when she reached Tom, giving him a hug.

  ‘You’d know if you’d actually call each other,’ I mumbled under my breath. Tom and Peyton had a strange relationship. I kept hearing about him and how they’d meet up at parties. She was obviously interested in him. But we didn’t think they’d even exchanged phone numbers yet. We were all confused by it.

  ‘Hey. ’

  I looked up to find Cole standing in front of me. Gritting my teeth, I forced a smile, suddenly realizing why Peyton had been so adamant about bringing me along.

  ‘Wow, two parties. I’m impressed,’ Cole taunted.

  ‘Parties aren’t my thing,’ I countered in annoyance.

  ‘Obviously,’ he stated. ‘Otherwise I would have seen you before. ’

  ‘True,’ I admitted with a slight nod. ‘Well, it’s a new year, so I’m trying new things. ’

  ‘What’s next on your list?’ Cole enquired, his clear blue eyes focused on me. I avoided his gaze and studied the crowd around us.

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