Out of breath, p.64
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       Out of Breath, p.64

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 65

 

  ‘Hi, Jonathan,’ I said awkwardly, not certain what I was supposed to do.

  ‘I can’t believe you’re really here,’ he said, relief washing over his face. ‘I thought you hated me. ’

  A quick pang shot through my chest at the choice of his words. ‘No. I think it’s about time we start forgiving. ’

  The visit with Jonathan had been a relief in some ways, but seeing him in that oppressive prison was still weighing heavily on my mind. My phone beeped, pulling me from my thoughts. I picked it up to find a missed call from Evan. A rush of nervousness ran through me at the sight of his name. I hadn’t heard from him since I’d left Santa Barbara five days ago. Knowing what the call meant, I gripped the steering wheel tighter. He’d made his choice.

  I pulled in to the rest stop and parked the rental car. Then I took a deep breath and listened to his message.

  ‘Hi, Em. Please call me. ’ His voice was quiet and sad.

  I closed my eyes. The quick patter of my heart filled my ears. I tried to calm it, to relax. But that was impossible. I was about to listen to the only person I would ever love tell me that he couldn’t be with me. There was no recovering from that.

  There were no more secrets. He knew everything. I was exposed. Letting Evan completely in was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. It left me vulnerable to his judgement and rejection. I might as well have splayed my ribs and handed him my heart. I didn’t need it if I wasn’t going to be with him.

  I stared at the phone in dread. I had been preparing for this call since the moment I’d walked away from him … again. I listened as the phone rang, concentrating on each breath.

  ‘Hi. ’

  ‘Hi,’ I responded faintly.

  ‘I’m glad you called. I was afraid you wouldn’t. ’

  ‘I figured you’d made your decision,’ I faltered, my heart continuing to pound fiercely.

  ‘I did. I … had to think. I was so angry. I couldn’t understand why you kept something that horrible a secret. I’m still not over it. ’

  My chest squeezed tight. I closed my eyes and waited.

  ‘Emma, there was never a choice. I will always choose you. Always. ’

  I couldn’t speak for a minute. ‘What?’

  ‘I don’t agree with what you did,’ he explained. ‘And I’m pissed off that you didn’t tell anyone. You screwed up, Em. But you knew that. That’s why you were torturing yourself. And I’ll get over being angry. But I could never get over losing you again. We can get through anything if we’re honest, if you let me in. Can you promise me no more secrets? No matter how much you think it’ll hurt, you’ll tell me everything?’

  This wasn’t what he was supposed to say.

  ‘Emma?’

  ‘I don’t understand. You still … love me?’

  He released the slightest chuckle. ‘Yeah, I do. And I know you’re not the same girl. But I’m in love with you, Emma. I fell in love with you all over again this summer. People change. I know this. And we’ll continue to change. That just means I’ll get to fall in love with you again. Because no matter what happens in our lives, what I feel for you will survive anything. ‘

  I was so afraid I’d lost him – that he could never love me. It had never occurred to me that he could forgive me. That he could love me as much as I love him. There was no way he was saying this. There was no way he was forgiving me. But he was.

  I collapsed on the steering wheel and sobbed, the phone slipping from my hand.

  ‘Emma?’ I heard him call to me, and I fumbled to pick it up. ‘Emma?’

  Between broken breaths, I responded, ‘I’m here. ’

  ‘You need to have more confidence in me,’ he said lightly.

  ‘Sorry. I just –’

  ‘I know,’ he interrupted. ‘But don’t ever doubt me again. ’

  ‘Never,’ I said, releasing a calming breath. ‘And no more secrets. ’

  ‘No more secrets. So where are you?’

  ‘At a rest stop, somewhere in Oklahoma,’ I answered, looking around the busy rest area.

  ‘Oklahoma? Why are you there?’

  ‘I just felt like getting in a car and driving. ’

  ‘How long were you planning on doing that?’

  ‘Until I found something worth stopping for,’ I answered, wiping my damp face and sinking back against the seat.

  ‘And you’re stopped now, right?’

  I smiled. ‘Yes. ’

  ‘I’ll take that as being worthy,’ he teased, making me smile wider. ‘Are you planning to drive all the way here?’

  ‘I was thinking about it,’ I responded. ‘I figured I’d be back by this weekend. ’

  ‘I’m flying to Connecticut this weekend,’ Evan informed me. ‘I have to pick up my things. My mother sold the house, and everything has to be out by this Sunday. ’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘Yeah,’ he murmured. ‘But it doesn’t matter any more. I have you. ’ Then he paused. ‘Right?’

  I laughed, swiping at my eyes. ‘Yes. You have me. ’

  ‘Good. Call me when you stop driving tonight, please?’

  ‘I will,’ I promised. ‘Bye, Evan. ’

  ‘Bye, Emma. ’ I let out a long breath, relieved she’d called me back. I held up the letter she’d left on the bedside table, and ran my finger over the ink with a soft smile. The letter that had once again changed my life.

  I love him more than he will ever know. And because of that, I choose his happiness.

  Those two lines were all that she’d written. And it took a phone call to my mother to understand. She repeated Emma’s vow back to me, ‘I love him, but I would walk away before I’d ever let anything jeopardize his happiness. ’ My mother claimed that this letter forced her to make one of the hardest decisions she’d ever had to make.

  I walked into the living room where Sara sat on the couch with her phone in her hand, texting. She eyed me curiously, then beamed. ‘You just spoke to Emma. ’ I nodded, unable to hold back the smile. ‘Good. ’

  ‘Thank you for talking to me. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to take a step back and understand what she was going through if you hadn’t helped me. ’

  ‘You were angry, which was understandable,’ she explained simply. ‘It’s hard to see clearly through that much anger. Believe me, I’ve been friends with Emma for a long time. I’m kind of an expert by now. ’

  I pulled in to the driveway and looked up at the large white farmhouse with a heavy chest.

  I used my key to open the door, the key I was supposed to leave on the kitchen counter before I left today. My footsteps echoed through the stark kitchen. The room seemed even larger now that everything had been removed.

  I ran my hand over the marble countertop, recalling all the conversations and meals shared there – not only with Emma but with my family too. I continued into the empty sitting room, with just the small crystal chandelier dangling in the middle of the room. Shadows of twilight stretched across the floor through the large picture window.

  I didn’t bother turning on the light as I walked down the hall, allowing the dimness to reflect my sombre mood. The piano sat in the same spot, mocking me – the last item left behind, besides what was in my room. The piano movers weren’t expected until the next day. I climbed the spiral stairs, the stairs I’d carried Emma up when she’d hurt her knee. I smiled faintly, remembering her irritation when I’d scooped her up unexpectedly.

  I stood outside my bedroom door and hesitated. This was the first house where I’d unpacked every single box, wanting to stay. All because of a girl with a fiery attitude and a blush that let me know exactly what she thought of me. That’s all it took, and I was hers. And now I had to leave the only place I’d ever considered home.

  I pushed the door open and flipped on the lights in the dark, cavernous room, but I remained within the doorframe, looking around curiously. It looked exactly how I’d left it. Unpacked.

&
nbsp; I walked over to the tux lying across the bed, with a note set on top.

  Put me on and come out back.

  I grinned.

  When he finally came outside, I was sitting on the swing with small twinkling lights glowing above me, like a thousand fireflies spread out along the wiry branches. It was enchanting. Exactly as I’d intended.

  I smiled brightly at the flawless guy dressed in the fitted tux. His golden-brown hair was swept neatly to the side, and he wore a smile that made my entire body ignite in rampant flutters.

  ‘Hi,’ he said, the lights sparkling in his eyes. ‘I’m glad you’re here. I’ve missed you. ’

  ‘Hi,’ I responded, swinging gently on the swing. ‘I’ve missed you too. ’

  There was no use trying to breathe when I saw her sitting on the swing in the strapless pink dress that floated around her. Her short brown hair framed her stunning face, and the lights in the trees illuminated her skin. I was mesmerized by the girl in front of me.

  ‘A guy once told me that a girl needed time to prepare for something like this,’ she said. ‘I think we’ve waited long enough. Evan Mathews, will you go to prom with me?’

  I laughed, my ears suddenly picking up the music coming from the pool area. ‘Yes, Emma, I’d love to go to prom with you. ’ She hopped down from the swing and took the hand that I held out for her. I wrapped her securely in my arms, my nose pressed into her hair. After everything that had happened this summer, I just needed to hold her. And she needed to know she was mine, and that I was still hers. We remained in the embrace until her shoulders relaxed and she melted against me.

  I eased away, peering down at her radiant face. ‘You did this?’ I asked, nodding towards the tree.

  ‘No,’ she said with a light laugh. ‘I hired people to do it. I’d break my neck. But I planned it. Are you surprised?’

  ‘Very. ’ I laughed, about to kiss her when she swung open the gate. The fire reflecting on the water caught my eye, and I turned my head.

  Emma beamed. ‘See. There is a pool. ’

  Candles floated along the surface, and the entire patio was softly lit with colourful paper lanterns, reminding me of the ones she’d told me her father would hang for her in the back yard on her birthday.

  Wow, I mouthed. ‘This is amazing, Emma. ’

  ‘I know. I’m pretty impressed with myself. ’

  Evan laughed, sweeping his arm around my waist and guiding me closer. He leaned over and kissed me so gently it felt like a whisper against my lips. My eyes remained closed when he pulled away.

  ‘Breathe, Emma. ’ His voice drifted in the breeze. I opened my eyes, and exhaled. He didn’t let me go, and we began swaying to the hypnotic sounds of female vocals swirling through the air.

  ‘Thank you for doing this,’ he said, kissing my temple. ‘It means a lot to have you here, to share the last night in this house with me. ’

  ‘Last night?’ she remarked, tilting her head up at me. ‘Why would tonight be your last night?’

 
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