Out of breath, p.61
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       Out of Breath, p.61

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 62


  ‘The girls are about to come in here and jump on the bed,’ Evan said, his voice low in my ear. ‘You may want to think about getting up. ’

  As his warm lips pressed against my shoulder, mine curled into a reluctant smile. I squirmed back to feel him against me, still refusing to open my eyes.

  ‘Emma!’ Sara pounded on the door. ‘Get up! You need to help us get ready!’

  Evan laughed as I swore into my pillow.

  ‘Told you. ’

  ‘Why did I think this party was a good idea?’

  I inhaled quickly when his hand slid under my shirt, along my stomach.

  ‘No one talked you into it,’ Evan murmured, teasing my neck with his tongue. ‘You were all excited about it last week, on your birthday, remember?’

  ‘That was … a weird day. I mean … a good day. ’ I sighed, unable to concentrate on the conversation. ‘The Fourth of July … shouldn’t start … till after dark. ’ I grabbed Evan’s hand, squeezing it when the warmth of his mouth sent shivers through my body.

  ‘Emma!’ Sara hollered again. Evan chuckled and rolled away.

  ‘I’m up,’ I called back, then mumbled, ‘Unfortunately. ’ Evan slid off the bed as I pulled back the blankets. He was already dressed in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.

  ‘I’ve been volunteered to pick up ice. ’ I sat up on the edge of the bed and flopped my head against his stomach. ‘I’ll be back in a little while, okay?’ he said, running his hand over my hair.

  I nodded. He pulled me off the bed into a hug. I dragged my feet to the bathroom as he made his exit.

  ‘Please tell me she’s up,’ Sara said as soon as I came out of the room.

  ‘Yes. ’ I laughed. ‘She’s up. ’

  ‘Hi, Evan,’ Serena chimed with a sparkling smile. ‘Do you have an iPod? Sara’s put me in charge of music. ’

  I looked towards Sara, who shrugged. ‘Yeah, it’s out in my truck. I’ll bring it in when I get back from picking up Nate. ’

  ‘Can you buy some lemons too?’ Meg called from the kitchen.

  ‘Sure,’ I answered on my way out the door.

  ‘How’s everything at the house?’ Nate asked as we drove to the store.

  ‘Sara’s in charge of … everything,’ I stated. ‘Serena’s selecting the music. Meg’s getting the food ready. And James and Jared are setting up tables and a volleyball net outside. ’ Which left me and the guys in charge of drinks.

  ‘What about Emma?’

  ‘Um …’ I chuckled. ‘She’s wishing it was tomorrow already. ’

  ‘I wondered why she decided to have the party. I saw her face when I mentioned it. ’

  ‘We caught her on a good day when we brought it up last week,’ I explained.

  Nate’s looked to me curiously.

  ‘It was her birthday. ’

  ‘Oh. ’ He nodded. ‘I didn’t know. How come we didn’t –’ He stopped, suddenly remembering why no one knew it was her birthday, and why she didn’t celebrate it. Because it was also the day her father died in a car accident, thirteen years ago. ‘Forget it. ’

  ‘How’s it going between you? I know it’s gotten more serious. Have you told her … everything yet?’

  ‘Yeah,’ I answered, not entirely ready to have this conversation.

  ‘And has she been completely honest with you?’ That question was precisely why I didn’t want to talk about us.

  ‘Not entirely,’ I said evasively.

  ‘Dude! Really?! What are you doing then?’

  ‘Giving her time,’ I told him.

  ‘She’s had two fucking years,’ he declared heatedly.

  We pulled into the parking lot, and I got out as soon as I shut off the truck, ending the conversation … for now. Nate wasn’t convinced that Emma wouldn’t still destroy me. And I’d never admit it to him, but … I wasn’t either.

  ‘What do you want me to do?’ I asked.

  ‘Cut up the watermelon?’ Meg requested as Sara stood out on the deck, instructing the guys where to put everything.

  ‘Emma, where’s your iPod?’ Serena asked from in front of the entertainment unit.

  ‘It’s in my room,’ I told her, ‘somewhere in the tote bag that’s in the closet. ’

  Serena disappeared into the bedroom while I prepared to slice watermelon. I’d never done it, but how hard could it be? I stuck the long knife into the rind and … couldn’t move it – leaving the blade sticking out of the green skin at an awkward angle. I pushed again and it slid down a fraction of an inch.

  I looked behind me, and Meg was staring at me in disbelief.

  ‘Really, Emma?’ she said, both amazed and amused by my ineptitude. ‘I truly thought you could handle that. ’

  ‘I can do it,’ I argued, making a futile attempt to move the blade.

  ‘Don’t stick it in so far, and use more of a sawing motion,’ Meg instructed.

  ‘Emma!’ Serena called to me from within my room. ‘Will you come here a second?’

  ‘I’ve got it,’ Meg assured me when I scrutinized my predicament, not certain I could just leave the watermelon with the knife protruding out of it. Meg took my spot, and before I’d even left the kitchen, the watermelon was falling into halves.

  ‘I loosened it for you,’ I insisted as I passed the opening in the wall.

  ‘Yeah, that’s it,’ she agreed, with a shake of her head.

  When I entered the bedroom, Serena was standing with her arms crossed, waiting for me.

  ‘Hey,’ I greeted her warily. ‘What’s up?’

  ‘What’s this?’ she snapped, holding up The Letter. My mouth opened to speak, but nothing came out. ‘Are you planning on ending things with Evan? What’s going on, Em? I mean, I thought you two were finally together again. ’ She sounded like I’d betrayed her.

  I released a slow breath. ‘I wrote that two years ago, before I left. His mother sent it back to me a little over a year ago. She said there’d be a day he’d want to know what it said, and it was my decision whether to share it with him or not. ’

  ‘You just left him with a letter?’ she asked in shock. ‘You didn’t say anything?’

  ‘Not exactly. ’ I sighed, averting my eyes. ‘And yes. I was wrong to leave like that. But I thought I was doing what was best for him. ’

  ‘You should have never left him, Em,’ Serena said sadly. I bowed my head in acceptance of the truth. ‘Are you going to show him this?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ I said softly. ‘Why would he want to see it now? I mean, we’re trying to move on. ’

  ‘Because he should know. You promised to be honest, didn’t you? Besides, you didn’t say anything that you didn’t believe to be true. ’

  ‘I know,’ I whispered.

  After Nate and I had loaded the freezer in the garage with the bags of ice, I walked into the kitchen. ‘Where’s Emma?’

  ‘Sara sent her to take a shower and get ready,’ Meg explained. ‘You should probably do the same. People will be here in an hour or so. ’

  ‘iPod, please,’ Serena requested, holding out her hand. I pulled it from my pocket and passed it over. ‘Thank you. ’

  I continued into the bedroom to find Emma sitting on the bed, wearing a blue-and-white dress and strapping on a pair of red sandals. Hearing me enter, she tilted her head up, and my mouth instinctively spread into a smile. When her response was hesitant, I peered deeper and recognized the distraught shift in her eyes.

  ‘Hi,’ I greeted cautiously. ‘Everything okay?’

  She didn’t say anything, only nodding slightly. She stood from the bed and smoothed the short skirt around her. I stood in front of her as she averted her eyes and slid my finger under her chin to redirect her gaze.

  ‘You can tell me, you know,’ I coaxed gently.

  ‘I know,’ she murmured. ‘I will. Later, okay? After everyone leaves. ’ My eyes tightened, not liking the way she said that.

  ‘Okay,’ I
responded, bending down to kiss her. She received me tenderly, sliding her hands into my hair, pulling me deeper into the give of her lips, but then she pulled away briefly, her eyes flickering with emotion.

  I struggled with what I saw for a moment, until she pulled me down onto the bed with her, kissing me like her breath depended on it. My body responded to her touch as she ran her hands along my back, under my shirt. I pushed against her, kissing her soft skin, down her neck and over her shoulder, peeling back the strap.

  ‘Emma, are you ready yet?!’ Sara shouted from the other side of the door. Breathing heavily, we didn’t move for a moment. ‘Emma?’

  She looked up at me in apology. ‘Coming!’

  I offered her my hand to assist her to her feet. ‘Later?’ I asked, having a hard time recovering.

  Emma’s mouth curled up seductively as she nodded. ‘Later. ’ There was still a hint of sadness in her eyes, but her smile seemed genuine.

  ‘Emma!’ TJ hollered in his overly emphatic way, dumping ice in the bin at the bar.

  ‘Hey, TJ,’ I responded with a smile. James and Brent were messing with the volleyball net, tightening the lines. Ren and Brent arrived a few minutes later with boxes from the liquor store, and a bucket full of some red drink they’d come up with for the day.

  Once the guests started to arrive I realized quickly that I never wanted to throw a party again. I was so busy refilling food, letting people know where the bathrooms were, and bringing the guys at the bar bags of ice, I wasn’t exactly having fun. It didn’t help that Evan had been assigned grilling duty, not giving us more than a passing second.

  I caught a glimpse of Evan standing at the grill with Nate and Jared when I brought out another salad to set on the long table. The sun reflected off the light brown strands of his neatly trimmed hair, which was becoming more golden as the summer progressed. His short-sleeved plaid button-down shirt brought out the shades of blue in his eyes. He laughed at something Jared said, revealing his heart-stopping smile.

  ‘Em?’ Serena beckoned, catching me staring. She grinned when she saw who held my attention. ‘He won’t be at the grill all afternoon. ’

  ‘Emma, can you get the bag of rolls from the kitchen?’ Meg requested.

  I sighed, and Serena laughed as I walked into the house.

  Evan was on his way in as I was heading out with my hands full of rolls.

  ‘And I’ll see you when?’

  ‘I’ll find you,’ he promised, intercepting me with a hand on my waist. Before he could lean over to kiss me, the front door opened and more people came in. He gave me a brief kiss and continued on his mission.

  ‘Evan, come play volleyball with us,’ Jared hollered from the beach. I had just shut off the grill and was about to find Emma, having lost track of her with the influx of arrivals. I was pretty sure we’d invited about forty people, a number that had been surpassed within the first hour. ‘Evan, come on, we’re one short!’

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