Out of breath, p.62
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       Out of Breath, p.62

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 63

 

  ‘I’ll be right down,’ I called to him, looking around one more time for Emma.

  I made my way down to the volleyball net, joining Jared, a few other guys and a girl. I unbuttoned my shirt and tossed it on the sand, prepared to play.

  ‘Hey, Evan,’ the girl said. It took me a moment to place her, and just as I recalled, she reminded me. ‘Nika. I met you at Nate’s. So this is your place, huh?’

  ‘Oh. Hey,’ I replied. ‘Yeah. This is the place I was telling you about. ’

  ‘It’s really nice,’ she admired.

  Jared called for everyone to take positions and got ready to serve. Nika took a position next to me. Brent was across the net, and he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. I was tempted to switch teams, but with Jared’s serve I was caught up in the game.

  ‘Just you and Emma staying here?’ she enquired.

  ‘No,’ I responded, watching TJ run off to get the ball that he’d batted twenty feet out of bounds. ‘There’s another couple here too. ’

  ‘Oh, you’re dating?’

  I nodded, glancing at her surprised expression before setting up for the next serve.

  I noticed the blue dress on the deck out of the corner of my eye. Emma was watching from against the railing, and next to her was a guy … standing a little too close.

  ‘Evan!’ Jared hollered, as the ball whipped by me. ‘Focus!’

  ‘What do you study at Stanford?’ Paul asked, hovering a little too close, despite my blatant lack of interest.

  ‘Pre-med,’ I told him, keeping my eye on the game and the lines of muscles flexing along Evan’s back as he set the ball up for Jared to spike over the net. They pumped their fists when Brent missed and it landed on the sand. Nika raised her hand for a high-five that Evan delivered. She was talking to him … a lot.

  ‘That’s pretty intense,’ he noted, having already gone on about his celebrity access as an assistant at a talent agency in LA.

  ‘Hey, Emma. ’ I turned to find Nate behind me.

  ‘Nate! What’s going on?’ I greeted with near-?TJ enthusiasm. He looked at me oddly, then noticed as Paul scooted in closer.

  Nate’s eyes widened in understanding. ‘I was actually hoping to talk to you,’ he said, fulfilling his rescue role.

  ‘Sure,’ I responded almost too eagerly. ‘It was nice talking to you. ’ I followed Nate without looking back.

  ‘Thanks,’ I stressed. ‘I’ve been trying to ditch him for a while, but he doesn’t know how to take a hint. ’

  ‘Glad I could help. But I did really want to talk to you. ’

  ‘Um, okay,’ I said, surprised by the request. We ventured away from the crowd and headed further down the beach, my stomach twisted with nerves. He wanted to talk to me about Evan.

  ‘Ren, have you seen Emma?’ I felt like I’d been asking that question all day.

  ‘I think I saw her walking down the beach with Nate. ’ Ren was lying in the hammock with his arm draped over the side, holding a beer.

  ‘Nate?’ I asked in confusion. Then it struck me. He was going to say something to her. Emma wasn’t going to handle being questioned by my best friend very well. The past week with her had been amazing. But we weren’t going to be fixed instantly, and I didn’t need Nate forcing her to reveal anything before she was ready. He wasn’t as patient as I was.

  ‘Where’d they go?’

  Ren pointed, and I rushed off in that direction.

  I walked beside Nate, anxiously waiting for him to say something. My phone buzzed while we were walking. I pulled it out of my pocket to find a text from Evan: Where are you?

  I looked at Nate. ‘Sorry. Evan’s looking for me. ’ I texted him back. After I hit Send, I clicked back to my list of messages, and my step faltered when I saw, Emma?

  ‘Emma, are you okay?’ Nate asked, pulling my attention away before I could open the text.

  ‘Yeah,’ I whispered, my mouth suddenly dry. ‘What did you need to tell me, Nate?’

  ‘I shouldn’t say anything, but … but I can’t watch it happen again. ’

  Nate shifted his gaze above my head, peering up at the darkening sky, calculating his words. I couldn’t calm the pounding in my chest, starting to feel a bit light-headed – I feared my legs might give out.

  ‘Evan’s a planner. What I mean is, he’s always trying to plan for what’s next, almost like a chess game. Everything he does has a reason behind it. He’s thought it out, sometimes three steps ahead of where it will lead him. Except when it comes to you. ’ He paused, glancing at me quickly. I remained still, holding my breath … waiting.

  ‘You’re like … speed chess. He has no idea what you’re going to do. No matter what he thinks his next move should be, he may have to come up with another one in a hurry. You do the unexpected. You challenge him, and that’s definitely one of the reasons he’s drawn to you. ’ Nate took a deep breath, shifting uncomfortably until he finally met my own nervous gaze.

  ‘He wasn’t good that first year. I’d never seen him like that, and I never want to again. He submitted to being at Yale, and told everyone that he was moving on with his life without you. But when he started the transfer to Stanford, I knew it was because of you. No matter what he tried to convince everyone else, he could never get over you. ’

  Nate paused in thought before continuing. ‘The reason I’m telling you all of this is because the more time you spend together, the more hopeful he becomes. But, Emma, don’t do this if you aren’t planning to be completely truthful with him. He deserves that much. I don’t know what you haven’t told him yet, but he needs to know. If it’s going to make him never want to see you again, then that’s the risk you have to take. I’m not going to let you gut him like you did two years ago. ’

  I met Nate’s determined expression and nodded feebly. ‘I will be honest with him. I promise. ’ And I knew exactly what that promise meant. My knees weakened.

  ‘Thank you,’ he said sincerely. ‘Hey, we should start heading back. The fireworks should be starting soon. ’

  ‘I’ll be there in a minute,’ I rasped, knowing that if I moved I’d collapse. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and stared down as Jonathan’s words lit up on my screen. My heart stopped.

  ‘There you are,’ I declared as soon as I came around the bend. ‘I was …’ Nate quickly passed me without a glance. Behind him, Emma was staring at her phone.

  ‘Emma?’ She collapsed to her knees. I was too late.

  39

  No More Secrets

  I HELD EMMA’S TREMBLING HAND AS I LED HER back to the house. Nate had picked up his pace, so he was already submerged in the crowd. He knew I was pissed off, but I didn’t want to get into it with him in front of Emma. She was having a hard enough time looking at me.

  Her steps faltered as I cut through the crowd and into the house. I shut and locked the bedroom door behind us while Emma continued out to the patio. I found her seated on the end of the teak lounge chair, her gaze fixed on the ground and her arms wrapped around her waist.

  ‘What did he say to you?’ I asked quietly. ‘Whatever he said –’

  Her heartbreaking dark eyes peered up at me, coated with tears.

  ‘He just wants me to be honest with you. That’s all. He didn’t say anything wrong, Evan. Don’t be mad at him. He was only being your best friend. And he didn’t ask me for anything that you don’t deserve. ’

  I hugged myself tighter and drew in a quivering breath. ‘I’m scared. ’ I swallowed against the lump in my throat. ‘I’m going to lose you, Evan. ’

  ‘Hey,’ he soothed, crouching in front of me. ‘No, you’re not. I’m not going anywhere. I promise. ’

  ‘You can’t promise that. You have no idea …’ My voice trailed off.

  ‘Then tell me, Em. Please just explain what happened and stop torturing yourself,’ he implored passionately. ‘I’ll understand, whatever it is. ’

  I raised my eyes to let him in.
I wasn’t going to fight it any more.

  Her eyes delved into me with an intensity I’d never experienced before. They were steady, full of conviction. ‘I want you to see. All of me. Like you’ve always wanted. But you’re not going to like it. There’s a part of me that’s dark and … angry. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be rid of it. ’

  She paused, like she was trying to prepare me. But this wasn’t what I’d expected.

  ‘I’m more like my mother than I ever wanted to admit. I’m just as hateful. Just as self-destructive. And just as broken. She was right when she said I should never have been born. ’

  ‘Emma, don’t say that. ’

  ‘It’s your turn to listen, Evan,’ she said calmly, her voice distant and coated with ice. ‘I hated her. I hated my mother, and I’m glad she’s dead. ’ I flinched at her words, but I didn’t say anything. ‘She can rot in hell where she belongs. I don’t give a fuck. ’

  I stood up and backed away a step, startled by the loathing in her hardened dark eyes.

  I didn’t react when he withdrew from me. He wanted to know, so I wasn’t going to hold back. He shook his head, as if denying this was really me.

  ‘Jonathan understood. He knew what it was like to be tortured by hate until it becomes a part of you. Our pain bonded us – allowed us to be honest with each other. He didn’t judge me when I told him I hated her. He didn’t look at me like you are now. Like I’m detestable. And I am. I know I am. That’s why you should hate me, Evan. ’ The emotion broke my resolve. ‘You’re supposed to hate me as much as I hate myself. ’

  The torment cut through, shattering her icy tone and dissolving the hatred in her eyes. I took a step towards her, prepared to console her, to convince her that I didn’t hate her, and never could. It crushed me knowing she was convinced that she was worth all the hate that had ever been unleashed upon her.

  ‘I almost gave up. ’

  I froze. ‘What?’

  ‘That day … of my run. I almost gave up. ’ My heartbeat picked up. ‘I walked out into the ocean, and just kept going. I wanted it to take me. To drown the guilt. I didn’t want to hurt any more. I didn’t want to be hated any more. I didn’t want to keep breathing. ’

  Her words stole the air from my lungs. ‘Emma. ’ She crumpled onto her knees. I caught her, wrapping her in my arms. ‘You don’t get to quit on me. Because if you do, you’ll take me with you. And you can’t do that to us. ’

  Tears stung my eyes as she collapsed against me. ‘I can’t …’ Her voice broke. ‘I can’t do this any more. ’

  ‘Then I’ll do it for you,’ I rasped, my throat closing. ‘Let me love you. Let me love you enough for the two of us, until you can accept that you’re worth it. Because you are, Emma. I don’t know how to convince you. But I’ll spend the rest of my life trying. You can’t give up on me now. I won’t let you. ’

 
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