Out of breath, p.52
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       Out of Breath, p.52

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 53

 

  ‘Emma, you didn’t do that to him,’ she consoled. ‘That was his parents’ decision, okay? It’s not your fault, so stop thinking it is. ’

  I nodded, trying to release the winding guilt.

  ‘But he needs to be the one to tell you all of this –’ Sara sighed – ‘not me. He still should, even if you already know. If you decide you want to start over with him, he has to be honest too. ’

  My shoulders sank. ‘You’re right. ’

  She usually was.

  33

  The Pool Thing

  THE STREET WAS ALREADY LINED WITH CARS when we reached Nate’s that afternoon. Our conversation about Evan had delayed our departure.

  ‘I love this already,’ Serena declared, shuffling through the crowd in the house to locate the source of the guitar riffs out back.

  ‘Hey, Emma!’ Ren yelled from the bar across the room.

  ‘Hey, Ren!’ I waved without stopping, trying to keep up with Serena.

  We stepped onto the deck to discover girls in various state of dress surrounding the pool.

  ‘Wow, some of these girls have no shame,’ Meg surmised, scanning the oiled skin glistening in the sun.

  ‘I think they have confidence,’ Serena countered. ‘Why be ashamed?’

  ‘This coming from the girl with flawless alabaster skin,’ Meg teased.

  ‘Who isn’t afraid to walk through the house naked,’ I reminded Meg.

  ‘She just does that to piss Peyton off. ’ Meg laughed.

  ‘Emma!’ TJ hollered from the patio on the terrace below with a ridiculous smile on his face. ‘You’re here!’

  ‘Yes, I am,’ I hollered back, laughing.

  ‘One of Evan’s friends?’ Sara noted.

  I nodded.

  ‘Finally, a party with decent music,’ Serena admired, bobbing her head to the band set up on the patio. ‘C’mon. Let’s find the guys. ’ She grabbed my hand to lead me down the stairs.

  ‘Do you want a drink?’ Meg asked when we reached the patio.

  ‘Yes,’ Sara answered for all of us, heading towards the bar.

  ‘Hey, guys,’ I said to Nate and Brent when we finally reached the front of the line.

  ‘We were wondering when you were going to show up,’ Nate said, then noticed the girls next to me. ‘Hi, I’m Nate. And this is Brent. ’

  Brent revealed his flirtatious smile and held out his hand when I returned the introduction.

  ‘Emma, you look stunning,’ Brent complimented.

  ‘Thanks,’ I replied, smiling back. The girls eyed me curiously.

  ‘What can I get you lovely ladies to drink?’ Brent offered, rubbing his hands together.

  ‘Surprise us,’ Serena requested.

  ‘Evan’s with James and Jared. They’re around here somewhere,’ Nate informed us after Brent had lined up our drinks on the bar.

  ‘Thanks!’ Serena replied. She grabbed my arm with one hand while holding a blue-hued drink in her other.

  We didn’t have to look too hard. They were the guys every girl seemed to be staring at. It helped that they were also taller than just about everyone around them.

  ‘Hey,’ I said, approaching Evan.

  His breathtaking smile appeared as he said, ‘Hi. Glad you’re here. ’

  ‘Oh, we have to dance to this song,’ Serena exclaimed, taking the drink out of my hand and giving it to Evan before dragging me through the bodies towards the small stage. I glanced back at him in apology. Evan grinned and shrugged. In seconds the rocking crowd had swallowed us up.

  Serena picked a spot in front of the band and began jumping to a cover of a popular alt rock song.

  Uncertain how tender my cuts and blisters still were, I tentatively started bouncing on the balls of my feet.

  ‘C’mon, Emma!’

  Realizing I could handle it, I pushed off with more force, jumping alongside Serena as she thrust her arms in the air. Sara bounced her way towards us, her red hair flailing around her. Meg, who preferred her feet on the ground, laughed at our exuberance while rocking her hips.

  ‘I’m not sure we’re going to see them again,’ Jared said, watching Sara as she pogoed, tossing her head from side to side.

  ‘The band will take a break eventually,’ I assured him.

  ‘What are they drinking?’ James asked, holding up the blue drink Serena left with him.

  ‘It’s a girl drink,’ I explained. ‘The guys come up with a special drink for the girls each party. It’s usually super sweet and full of alcohol. ’

  James took a sip and cringed. ‘Yeah, I’ll stick to beer. ’

  I laughed.

  ‘How are things going with Emma?’ Jared asked, not taking his eyes off Sara.

  ‘It’s complicated,’ I answered, taking a sip of my beer.

  ‘Usually is with her,’ Jared said, making James chuckle.

  ‘You’re not surprised?’ I asked James.

  ‘She’s … different,’ he responded, choosing his words carefully. ‘But I like her. She’s not predictable. ’

  ‘That she’s not. ’

  ‘That’s why Evan likes her,’ Jared commented with a half smile. I let out a short laugh, recognizing the truth in his statement. ‘Well, whatever you’ve been doing, it seems to be working, because she doesn’t look so messed up. She looks pretty good actually. ’

  ‘Uh, nice, Jared,’ I said with a shake of my head. But he was right. I watched as her cheeks glowed pink, laughing at Serena jumping beside her. I couldn’t deny that she was beautiful, even in just jeans and a tank top. But then again, I thought the same thing when she woke up in the morning with her hair sticking up and pillow lines on her face.

  ‘Hey, Evan,’ TJ bellowed across the pool, drawing my attention away from Emma. ‘Ren could use your help upstairs. ’

  ‘I’ll be right there,’ I yelled back. ‘I’ll see you guys later. ’ I looked down at the drink in my hand. ‘Could you give this to Emma?’ I handed it to James, who balanced both drinks on the palm of his hand.

  I left them and headed into the house, where the demands of the party kept me busy for a while. More people showed up for this party than for any of the others so far. Somehow, I’d gotten suckered into helping once again, even though I had nothing to do with planning this party. In fact, I wasn’t even staying in the house any more.

  Emma came over to say hi, but I wasn’t able to talk to her because it was so busy. I tried to break away several times, but it just didn’t happen. I scanned the room in search of one of the guys, getting more irritated by the minute.

  ‘Hi. ’ A slender blonde greeted me from the other side of the bar.

  ‘Hi,’ I said, without really looking at her as I continued to keep an eye out for someone to take my place. ‘What can I get you?’

  ‘I’ll have a beer,’ she requested. As I was reaching into the tub, she continued, ‘You’re Evan, right?’

  ‘Yeah,’ I confirmed, flipping the top off the bottle and handing it to her.

  ‘I’m Nika. ’ She took the bottle from me. ‘I know you guys from surfing. ’

  I finally focused on her, and vaguely recognized her dark brown eyes and sun-bleached hair. I was pretty sure she was one of the girls Brent kept trying to get a number from. ‘That’s right. Glad you could make it. ’

  ‘Me too. ’ She smiled. ‘Maybe I’ll talk to you later. ’

  ‘Sure,’ I replied, looking past her to the guy in the baseball hat.

  ‘Nice, Evan,’ Ren nudged, emptying ice into the tub.

  ‘What are you talking about, and where the hell have you been? I need to be done here. ’

  ‘Come on,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘That girl’s totally into you. ’

  ‘Whatever. Will you cover for me?’

  ‘I need to get some more ice, and then I’ll be right back,’ he promised.

  When I was finally relieved at the bar, I cut through the tightly packed room t
o the deck. I searched the faces until I located Emma and Meg on the far side of the pool, talking and laughing about something. I made my way down the stairs towards them.

  Nika suddenly appeared in front of me when I stepped onto the patio. ‘I was wondering if you were ever going to come out from behind the bar. ’

  ‘Oh, hey, it’s good to see you again,’ I told her, glancing around for Emma in the dense crowd around the pool.

  ‘Are you staying at this house with the rest of the guys?’ she enquired, apparently determined to have a conversation.

  ‘I’m staying at a place about five minutes from here. ’

  ‘Is it just as nice?’

  ‘Um, it’s a great place, right on the beach,’ I explained, trying to give her enough eye contact so that I wasn’t insulting her, while subtly tracing along the pool’s edge for a purple top and short brown hair.

  ‘I’d love to see it,’ Nika stated.

  She was a very attractive girl, and if I were Brent, I’d be thrilled she was giving me the time of day – but I wasn’t Brent, and she was the wrong girl.

  ‘Maybe we’ll have a party sometime,’ I told her. ‘Do you know Emma Thomas … from surfing?’

  ‘Uh, yeah. I actually just brought her here a few days ago, after we found her on the beach. ’

  ‘Well, I’m glad you were there to help her out. ’

  ‘She’s dating Cole, right?’

  ‘No. She’s not,’ I replied. My jaw twitched slightly just thinking about them together. ‘She’s staying at the same house I am. Does she have your number?’

  ‘I think she does,’ she responded, with an undertone of disappointment. ‘Are you –’

  ‘Evan!’ Serena beckoned from behind Nika. Serena’s eyes flickered between the two of us, silently assessing. ‘We were looking for you. ’

  ‘Sorry, I’ve been stuck upstairs,’ I told her.

  ‘Hi, I’m Serena,’ she said to Nika, sliding in beside me and wrapping her arms around mine. Not waiting for Nika to be introduced, she continued, ‘I’m going to steal Evan now. ’

  Before she could drag me away, I heard a quick yelp, followed by a splash in the pool.

  ‘Oh no,’ Serena groaned, pulling me after her.

  ‘I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming,’ I gasped as Meg popped up next to me.

  ‘I think you were a little distracted,’ Meg teased. ‘And now I’m one up on you. ’

  ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ I defended, my face flaming up at being caught watching Evan talk to Nika.

  A spray of water interrupted us when someone else jumped into the pool. TJ surfaced, wearing his charismatic smile.

  ‘Want some company?’ he asked, swimming across to us.

  And just like that, bodies began crashing into the water with hollers and cries of resistance. Guys wrestled each other into the pool, landing on screaming girls. I ducked under the surface, trying to reach the ladder and remove myself from the chaos.

  I reached for the rung of the ladder just as someone grabbed my ankle and pulled me back under. I kicked to the surface, and when I spun around to see who’d done it, I noticed Brent swimming away. I turned back towards the ladder and came face to face with Evan. He seemed just as startled as I was.

 
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