Out of breath, p.56
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       Out of Breath, p.56

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
 
Page 57

  ‘Truth,’ Evan concurred.

  ‘What was your favourite high-school moment?’ Serena asked, eyeing the two of us.

  She was really doing this to me, wasn’t she?

  ‘That’s not a very revealing question,’ Darcy complained.

  ‘Hey! No feedback from the naked losers in the pool!’ Sara hollered.

  I knew what she was doing, trying to get me to recall a moment with Evan, but I wasn’t going to give in to her ploy. ‘The night of my first football game. I stayed at Sara’s, and she performed one of her notorious makeovers. I even let her cut my hair. ’

  ‘You did that?’ Evan said to Sara.

  ‘Yes, I did,’ Sara said proudly.

  ‘Nice. ’ Evan nodded, his eyes distant in remembrance. ‘The night pink became my favourite colour. ’

  I sat very still, trying hard not to react. Sara smiled, her eyes twinkling. ‘My fault. ’

  Evan laughed lightly.

  I needed to cool my cheeks with the frozen drink. Evan was playing right into their meddling. ‘What are you doing?’ I pleaded. His eyes flickered in confusion.

  ‘Evan?’ Serena prompted, pulling him away from trying to read my expression. ‘What was yours?’

  ‘My favourite moment wasn’t actually at school. It was the night of SATs. ’ Before I could elaborate, Emma started coughing loudly. When she excused herself from the table, I went after her.

  As soon as I got near enough, her coughs ceased.

  ‘Evan, seriously, what are you doing?’

  ‘What? You said to answer questions. ’

  ‘But you don’t have to be so honest,’ she said in a yelling whisper.

  ‘Emma, they’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. Besides, I think honesty might do us some good right now,’ I pointed out. ‘What do we have to lose?’

  She stared at me in shock, unable to believe I’d just said that. I was wondering where it came from myself.

  ‘You want honesty?’ she challenged. She walked over to the table, gripped the back of her chair and announced, ‘I want to retract my answer. ’

  ‘I knew I wasn’t your favourite high-school moment. ’ Sara grinned knowingly.

  ‘I was in the Art room, and Evan had just returned from San Francisco and –’

  ‘That’s all they need to know,’ I interrupted, suddenly understanding her aversion to too much honesty.

  ‘I get it,’ I whispered as we sat back down.

  ‘Thought you would,’ she teased.

  ‘Okay, then,’ Jared intercepted. ‘Whose turn to deal?’

  ‘I’ll deal,’ I said.

  Meg won the next hand and chose Evan and Jared. Jared took off his shirt, and Evan opted to answer a question. The way the questions were going, I thought I’d rather deal with him taking off his shirt.

  ‘If you had to choose between Jared and Emma, who would you choose?’

  Evan stared at her in disbelief with his mouth open. ‘What kind of question is that?’

  ‘A difficult one – that’s the point. ’

  Evan stalled, flipping his eyes between me and Jared. Every time he opened his mouth, nothing came out.

  ‘Meg, that’s an impossible question,’ Sara accused, trying to take the pressure off Evan.

  Jared was struck with the conflict that Evan was having about the same time I was, and we stared at him in amazement.

  ‘It’s your brother, right?’ I prodded, my voice low. ‘It’s okay, Evan. ’

  But he continued to struggle with the answer.

  ‘Well, it’s a good thing we aren’t trapped in a fire. ’ Jared laughed. ‘We’d both be done for if Evan was standing outside, deciding who to go in after. ’

  ‘Forget that one, Evan,’ Meg said, her eyes smiling. ‘We don’t want you to give yourself an aneurysm deciding. How about this – what was your first impression of Emma?’

  ‘Meg!’ I yelped. She grinned.

  Serena leaned in closer, awaiting his answer. I flipped the card that was in front of me over on the table, unable to make eye contact with anyone.

  ‘More margarita?’ Nate offered, holding out a fresh pitcher to top off my glass.

  ‘Thanks,’ I accepted, starting to feel the effects of the first two glasses, but not enough to ease the anxiety in my stomach.

  ‘The first time she spoke to me, she told me off,’ Evan said.

  ‘I didn’t tell you off,’ I defended myself.

  ‘Yes, you did,’ Sara said, followed by laughs from the spectators. ‘It was the first time the class had ever heard you argue with anyone. It was crazy. ’ She looked to Evan and said, ‘Sorry. Go ahead. ’

  ‘She had me from the beginning. Her tenacity intrigued me, and I wanted to know everything about her,’ Evan said. ‘Still do,’ he added under his breath so only I could hear him. I took a sip from my glass.

  Meg won the next round too, still completely clothed.

  ‘What’s something you know about Sara that no one else knows?’ she asked Jared, who was down to his shorts.

  ‘She has a birthmark on her inner thigh,’ Jared blurted without hesitating. Sara shrugged.

  ‘Sara, what’s one thing about Emma that no one else knows?’

  Sara studied Emma, contemplating all the secrets she knew as Emma’s cheeks turned red in anticipation.

  ‘In seventh grade, right after she moved to Weslyn, she accidentally caught Ms Flynn’s sweater on fire when we were working in the bio lab for extra credit after school. ’ Emma sank in her chair, shielding her eyes in embarrassment. ‘She put it out before Ms Flynn returned to the classroom. The best part was that she hung the sweater on the back of her chair like nothing happened, and the next day Ms Flynn wore it in class with a burn hole on the back. ’

  Jared laughed. ‘How the hell did you catch her sweater on fire?’

  ‘She was trying to show me how to burn off lint balls, and it was pretty cool at first, then it just started burning. ’ Sara giggled.

  ‘Yeah. That happened,’ Emma admitted, glancing at me out of the corner of her eye.

  ‘It made me laugh so hard,’ Sara recalled, ‘I knew I had to be friends with her after that. ’

  ‘Wow,’ I said with a grin. Emma bit on her lip.

  We continued playing, and I won the next hand, selecting Meg and Sara, who nonchalantly removed their shorts. As retribution, Jared selected Emma and Serena when he won his next hand. When Serena removed her shorts, revealing the length of her ivory legs, James protectively set his hand on her pale thigh.

  ‘Truth,’ I selected, relieved that Jared was doing the asking.

  ‘If you could get away with one illegal thing, what would it be?’ he asked playfully.

  In a flash, all I could see was blood, and the disfigured face lying motionless on the floor. I felt the blood rushing from my face. Meg looked at me curiously. I rubbed my damp palms on the skirt of my dress.

  A cold sweat broke out along my spine. I pushed away from the table and walked away without saying a word.

  ‘Emma!’ Sara called after me.

  I didn’t look back. I needed to shut down the rush of images. Jonathan punching the guy over and over again. The blood smeared on the floor when he picked him up. My hands clutching the steering wheel as Jonathan wiped the car of fingerprints. It was the one secret that I’d been able to keep closed off, locked in the deepest bowels of repression – only to be released by one harmless question.

  ‘Emma!’ Sara yelled again, running to catch up as I reached the sidewalk. ‘What was that about? What’s wrong?’

  I couldn’t. I shook my head and kept walking, shutting everything out.

  ‘Emma, stop,’ she requested desperately. ‘Please. Please tell me what happened?’ She reached for my arm, and I spun around. Sara flinched when she saw the hardened look on my face. ‘Please tell me what happened?’

  I caught a glimpse of Evan watching us from the sidewalk.

 
; ‘I’m walking back to the house,’ I said in a rush, turning away. ‘I’m not playing any more. ’

  ‘Okay,’ she answered. ‘Can I come with you?’

  ‘If you want. But I’m not talking about it,’ I told her firmly.

  ‘All right,’ Sara agreed. She hollered to Evan, ‘Emma and I are walking back. ’

  He nodded but remained on the sidewalk, watching after us. I kept walking, and Sara accompanied me in silence.

  Just when I thought there was a chance to shed myself of all my horrible choices, I was painfully reminded of the one that I could never outrun.

  36

  Always You

  SARA HAD COME OUT OF EMMA’S ROOM HOURS ago and told me she was going to be okay. That was it. Then she went upstairs with Jared.

  There was nothing okay about the horrified look in Emma’s eyes when Jared asked that question. He’d apologized over and over, but I still couldn’t talk to him. Of all the questions he could’ve asked, he had to ask the girl who’d survived being strangled that question. The girl who had been tormented for years at the hands of a sadistic woman.

  I couldn’t stay mad at him. He wasn’t thinking of Emma’s past, just of the hilarious answers any other person would have come up with. He had no idea she was going to react that way. When she’d pushed her chair away, her whole body was trembling. Sara had reached her before I did, and so she was the one who was there for her. And I stayed away, and let her.

  But now I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to check on her. To lie next to her and hold her. I knew I could keep her safe, if she’d just let me. But something kept me on the hammock, staring at the stars, instead of knocking on her door. There was still too much we hadn’t told each other.

  I pushed my foot against the deck, rocking the hammock gently as I scanned the dark sky, the stars shifting beneath the swift veil of clouds. I wasn’t looking forward to telling her what had happened when she left. I knew she needed to know, but it didn’t make it any easier. But maybe if I opened up to her, she would do the same – and tell me what she was still keeping from me.

  Jonathan’s text made my stomach turn. I hadn’t been able to get the words out of my head since I’d read them. I do forgive you. I miss you. Would give anything to hear your voice right now.

  I never did like him … or trust him. Apparently, I’d had a good reason not to. She’d confided in him. She’d trusted him in a way she couldn’t trust me. But there was more to it than that … Please say you forgive me?

  Something had happened, and before we could move on, before we could completely forgive each other, she had to tell me what that was. He wasn’t here for her now. And from the sounds of it, he wasn’t planning on being in her life. But whatever he’d done, it had changed her.

  I couldn’t sleep. I stared into the dark, thinking about Jonathan. My heart thumped loudly in my chest, the lingering violence I’d witnessed clinging to me. For two years I’d pushed it away, refusing to confront what we’d done. I wanted to believe that protecting him was the right choice. I’d held Jonathan’s secrets as my own, as I’d promised I would – convincing myself that my silence was justified. My body shuddered at the memory of the charred remains of the house where his family had died, burned alive. I could still see the torment in his eyes when he confessed to the arson. There wasn’t any punishment that could destroy him more than his own guilt and sorrow. I knew what that hate did to a person. That venom still tainted my veins.

 
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