Out of breath, p.58
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       Out of Breath, p.58

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 59


  ‘What about Ben? He was the salutatorian,’ I questioned, feeling increasingly ill the more he spoke.

  ‘He refused. ’ Evan shrugged. ‘I don’t know the exact details, but I ended up having to give a speech that was supposed to encourage everyone to go after their dreams. How was I supposed to convince them to look forward to their futures when I couldn’t see two steps in front of me? It was a disaster.

  ‘And then I went to Yale. I wanted nothing to do with you, so I didn’t fight it at first. It wasn’t in me to care any more. I’d go to classes during the week, and spend the weekends at home … with Analise. ’

  ‘Analise?’ My voice broke.

  I lifted my eyes towards the shifting sky and gathered myself. Knowing how much I was hurting her was killing me, which was the reason I didn’t want to share this with her to begin with. But I was convinced it was the only way we’d finally be able to heal.

  ‘She was always a friend. She cared about me. And so we’d hang out, and she’d try to take my mind off you. And I let her. By Christmas the worst of my anger had disappeared. But then I wanted answers. I needed to see you, so I could ask you why. I tried to come out here over break, but my parents wouldn’t let me touch my savings, and my father eventually took my car away when they realized how determined I was.

  ‘I couldn’t reach you. The McKinleys were as evasive as everyone else, and Sara didn’t even pick up my calls. I was so cruel to her after you left, basically taking it out on her, forcing her to avoid me completely – even while she and Jared were still dating. I wasn’t myself, and I was dragging everyone down with me in my misery. ’

  I paused to look over at her. Emma was clutching her knees tightly to her chest as her body trembled.

  ‘Are you okay?’ I asked, wanting to comfort her. But I couldn’t bring myself to touch her … not yet.

  ‘Keep going,’ she murmured, her voice strained.

  This was torturing her. Guilt was her poison, and I was pouring it down her throat. I continued with the honesty, hoping in the end she could let it all go.

  ‘Analise tried to rationalize with me, about how it was your choice and that I needed to respect it and leave you alone. But she didn’t know you – not like I did. It was hard for her to see me go through it. I think it was right around the beginning of the next year that we started dating. She was finishing her senior year, and I was … I wasn’t doing much of anything. If she wasn’t there to make me, there were days I wouldn’t get out of bed.

  ‘I can’t even imagine what that was like for her. I have no idea why she wanted anything to do with me. ’

  The thought of her comforting him, convincing him to let me go, made my chest want to cave in on itself. I squeezed my legs tighter to keep from falling apart.

  ‘She tried,’ he continued, as much as I wished he’d stop. ‘But she wasn’t you. And as long as you were out there somewhere … I couldn’t let you go until I got the answers I needed. At least that’s what I convinced myself. When she saw the transfer application to Stanford that broke her. She thought I was going after you. And on some level, I guess I was. She had every right to hate me. But then, inexplicably, she forgave me.

  ‘Something went wrong with the transfer. I should have suspected something, but I didn’t. She eventually confessed to withdrawing the transfer because she wanted to keep me from getting hurt again. I was furious. She’d become yet another person making decisions for me. So I stopped talking to her, and we never saw each other again … well, until she showed up at my house the day of Rachel’s funeral. ’

  ‘She did?’ I asked in shock. ‘Why?’

  ‘She knew you were in Weslyn for the funeral. Maybe she wanted to be there for me, in case I … But … I wanted to be there for you. ’

  ‘Did you … love her? Forget it. I don’t –’ I stopped, clenching my teeth together. ‘I don’t want to think of you with her. ’

  ‘I’m sorry,’ he said soothingly. ‘I know subconsciously that’s why I did it. To hurt you. And that’s so messed up. But she was a good friend, Em, as much as you didn’t like her. ’

  ‘I know,’ I muttured.

  ‘So I’m not perfect in all of this. I’ve done some pretty awful things to people I cared about. I ruined a good friendship with Analise. I slept with Catherine, even though I never cared about, or even liked her. She was just another in a line of catastrophic choices. All because I was desperate to get over you. But they were my choices. Your choice was to leave. The rest were mine. ’

  My body shook as I bent over and cried into my arms.

  I didn’t want to hurt her any more. There was only so much honesty a person could take, and she’d reached her limit. But I wasn’t done. I knew if I didn’t finish now, she wouldn’t understand, and I’d risk losing her for good.

  ‘The nightmares started last summer when I realized I wasn’t going to Stanford in the fall. I’d broken things off with Analise, and I was convinced you were never coming back. I wanted to move on, to try to live a life without you, but I wasn’t living. Emma –’ She lifted her tear-stained face. ‘I’m not supposed to live without you. And you’re not supposed to live without me. We’re in this life together. Without each other, we’re not really living. ’

  ‘Why did I have to know?’ I asked in a broken voice. ‘Because it hurts to think of you with … them, to know what I did to you. It’s like you’re squeezing my heart with your bare hands. I know I deserve it. But why tell me?’

  ‘Because we need to always be honest, even when it’s hard. And you need to know that I’m not perfect either. I’ve screwed up, and I’m so sorry. But it’s done now. And whatever you’re holding on to that makes you think I’ll hate you, I want you to be able to tell me, and know that even if it hurts me, I’m not going anywhere. ’

  ‘You can’t say that,’ I argued. ‘Evan, what if I did the most awful thing you could imagine? I don’t know if you could still love me. ’

  ‘But I know you, Emma. I do know you. Your heart won’t let you do anything that could make me not love you. And I’ve seen your vicious side. I was there when you confronted Rachel. I’ve seen how ruthless you can be. It’s a side I don’t like, but you don’t either. So I’m not afraid that’s who truly you are. Because it’s not. It’s the hurt and pain lashing out, needing to make someone else feel the way you did all those years. It’s not good, Em. But it doesn’t define you. ’

  My heart was pounding erratically. He was offering a safe place for us to open up and tell each other what we knew would hurt, owning up to our faults with the expectation of letting go and moving on. An exchange of our most awful mistakes. But I was holding on to something far darker than he could imagine, and it would change the way he looked at me. I couldn’t do it. I knew if I did, I’d lose him forever, and then I’d be worse than nothing.

  ‘I’m not ready,’ I whispered. ‘I’m sorry. ’

  I could see her fighting with it, the decision to tell me whatever it was that still held her captive, keeping her from me. I knew in every muscle of my body that it had to do with Jonathan. Something did happen between them. But she had to be the one to tell me. And as long this secret still loomed between us, I wouldn’t be able to completely forgive her. I also knew I couldn’t breathe without her.

  ‘I’ll give you time. But we’re not going to be able to move on if you can’t tell me everything. ’ Her eyes dipped sorrowfully. ‘Come here. ’ I held my arms open, and she moved between my legs, leaning her back into me so I could wrap my arms around her. She laid her head on my arm, and I kissed the top of her head. ‘We’ll get through this. I believe in us. ’

  Emma wrapped her arms around mine and squeezed. ‘I want to believe. ’

  ‘Look at me. ’

  She twisted around to face me. Her eyes were raw from crying, and her breath trembled with each inhale. I ran my finger along her damp cheeks. ‘I love you. ’

  I peered into his intense blue eye
s. They bared all that was vulnerable and pure in him. The part that just wanted to protect me, to encourage me to be better, to make me happy. He revealed it so plainly, my chest swelled with a flittering warmth. If I knew anything, I knew he loved me.

  ‘And you love me. ’ He stated it as the truth it was.

  ‘I do. Loving you is the only certainty in my life. I will never stop. But it was because of how much I love you that I ended up hurting you so badly. I only wanted you to be happy, and be rid of my destructive life. And you’re so beautiful and perfect – even with your flaws. I couldn’t destroy you too. ’

  Evan laid his hand on the side of my face. ‘Stop trying to protect me from your life. I knew exactly what I was getting into. I never doubted you loved me, not ever. All I want is for you to trust me, Emma. Please. ’

  ‘Trust isn’t going to save me,’ I told him, pressing my forehead against his chest as he hugged me tight.

  ‘Let’s go back to the house,’ Evan said, nestling his chin into my hair.

  I helped her off the sand and held her against my side as we walked back into the house. Disclosure was draining. Every part of me ached.

  ‘Will you stay with me tonight?’ she asked in a hush, leaning in to me. I could feel the energy seeping from her.

  ‘I wouldn’t be able to sleep unless I did,’ I said, pulling the smallest smile from her exhausted face. I led her into the room, and she practically collapsed on the bed, kicking her shoes off with her toes. I slid the covers out from under her and after removing my shorts and shoes, slid in behind her, pulling her to me so I could feel her heart beating against my chest. ‘Emma?’

  ‘Hmm,’ she murmured, already half asleep.

  ‘When can I kiss you?’

  I was too exhausted to move, but that one question released an unexpected surge, and I was suddenly very much awake. I rolled over to face him, and he grinned at me. ‘Hi. ’

  ‘Hi. ’ I smiled softly, running my hand into his hair. ‘You can kiss me now. ’

  My heart stammered as his lips pressed against mine. So familiar, but different at the same time. Our passion increased as he pulled my lip into his mouth and slid his tongue in mine.

  Heat surged through me as her lips teased mine, her tongue caressing in a slow sensual pace. I gripped her tighter, having wanted, needed, to taste her for so long. My pulse raced as I leaned into her, sliding my hand along her back. She gasped as the pressure of our bodies intensified. I opened my mouth and teased the spot below her ear with my tongue. She released a small sound of pleasure that drove me crazy. My breathing picked up as I found her lips again, pressing against them with urgency.

  I knew that we needed to stop, but the more she breathed in quick pants, the more my body responded, not wanting to pull away. She dug her fingers in my hair, and I was consumed by the softness of her lips, the touch of her tongue – her subtle floral scent intoxicating me. Emma wrapped her leg around me and tilted her head back to expose her throat, inviting me to take it. I trailed my mouth along it, tasting the salt on her skin.

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