Out of breath, p.7
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       Out of Breath, p.7

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 7


  I’d taken this picture. We were in the woods behind his house. I’d stolen his camera away from him and started to snap pictures of him. He’d always been the one behind the camera, so he was a reluctant subject. He chased after me, trying to get the camera back. The image was a black and white photo of his hand reaching for the camera. But I could see his eyes behind his outstretched fingers. They were grey and translucent on the paper; there was a shine to them, reflecting light. He was smiling. I didn’t have to see the rest of his face to know that.

  I love that picture. My heart squeezed tight as his voice whispered to me, reminding me of just how much I missed him.

  I hadn’t allowed myself to feel anything since I’d left him in that house. But now I was barraged with more emotion than I could handle. And I was finding it impossible to breathe.

  ‘Emma, you ready to …’ Serena’s voice faded away.

  I forced myself to exhale, to find the strength to look away from the image.

  ‘Yeah. ’ My voice cracked as I stood on unsteady legs. ‘I’m ready. ’

  Serena studied my face when I turned towards her. Her eyes flicked to the picture on the floor, but she didn’t say anything. I pushed out another breath and stilled the quake of my hands by clenching them into tight fists.

  Shoving my foot in my shoe, I tied the laces hastily and said with a forced smile, ‘Let’s go. ’ The black hole of emptiness that had protected me all of this time refused to shroud me in its shadows like I needed it to. I couldn’t shut everything off any more.

  The contemplative look in Serena’s eyes disappeared with a blink. Her face lit up with a wide smile. ‘Okay, c’mon!’

  When we arrived at the club, there was already a line of eager fans forming along the sidewalk.

  ‘Hey, Guy,’ Serena greeted the bouncer with bright eyes. He stood without expression in front of the entrance, his muscles heaving beneath a shirt that looked like it was about to burst. He was primed for ass-kicking.

  ‘Serena,’ he acknowledged and stepped to the side to allow us to enter. There were groans behind us as we slipped though the front doors.

  Serena liked to arrive early to watch the last-minute bustling as the club prepared for the show. She also wanted to see James before he had to take his post in front of the stage.

  He found us at our usual spot, seated on the crushed velvet couch on the second level. He sat between us and leaned into the crook of Serena’s arm after he kissed her hello.

  ‘James, will you let Emma stage dive tonight?’ Serena asked, stroking his smooth-shaven head affectionately.

  ‘You really want to stage dive?’ he asked me with a sceptical crooked grin. ‘Girls usually get groped when they do that. It’s not pretty. And then I may have to fuck the douchebags up. ’

  ‘Maybe not then,’ I replied. Desperate to try anything that would allow me to breathe again, I hadn’t considered the groping part of stage diving. I figured adrenaline was a better choice than alcohol. If I couldn’t be numb, I could at least get my heart pumping to temporarily dull the pain. But having strangers fondle me didn’t sound very appealing. I slumped back into the couch.

  ‘What if she falls backwards?’ Serena suggested. I jerked my head up at this option.

  ‘You can try. Not many people do that because they can’t see who’s going to catch them, and it’s a trust issue. Your ass will definitely be grabbed no matter what. Why don’t you crowd-surf so you don’t have to fall?’

  I considered it, but knew that wouldn’t be the same. ‘I need to fall,’ I explained. ‘And I can live with the ass-grabbing. ’

  James wrinkled his forehead in confusion. ‘Why do you want to do it?’

  ‘Because I can’t breathe,’ I stated flatly. Their eyes steadied on me.

  James released a laugh, shaking his head. ‘I don’t get you. Is that why you don’t go out with guys, because you’re –’

  ‘James!’ Serena scolded, smacking the back of his head with the palm of her hand.

  ‘I didn’t mean it like that,’ he said defensively. ‘She’s just … different, that’s all. It’s not a bad thing. ’ He turned towards me. ‘You know I think you’re cool. But I still don’t get you. ’ Serena eyes tightened at his honesty.

  ‘It’s okay,’ I replied, unaffected. ‘I don’t get me either. ’ James grinned.

  ‘They’re about to let in the masses,’ he reported, his hand covering his earpiece so he could hear better. ‘I need to go. I’ll see you after the show. ’ He kissed Serena and walked off towards his post.

  ‘Are you really going to fall backwards off the stage?’ Serena questioned, her dark eyes scanning mine.

  I looked away. ‘Yeah. ’ My heart skipped a beat at the thought of it, countering the pain for a split second. I needed to do this, to feel something, anything else.

  ‘Maybe we should do a few shots,’ she suggested. ‘That way if you hit the floor you won’t feel it. ’ She left and approached the bar along the side wall, talked to the girls attending it for a few minutes, and returned with two brimming shot glasses rimmed with sugar and two lemon wedges.

  I hadn’t planned on drinking. But in order to get up on that stage –

  ‘To breathing!’ Serena raised her shot glass to mine. My chest tightened with her words. I clicked her glass and threw back the shot, swallowing it as I’d seen done so many times in my life. I coughed in protest, and my body shuddered. The lemon did a little to cut the distinct vodka bite. My stomach ignited as the alcohol seeped into its walls.

  ‘Didn’t love that,’ I admitted, puckering my lips at the sourness of the lemon.

  ‘It gets easier,’ she promised, smiling softly. I had a feeling she wasn’t talking about the shot. ‘Let’s find a good spot in front of the stage before it gets too crowded. ’ She leapt up from the couch and pulled me after her.

  Serena fed me a few more shots as we listened to the opening act. I kept thinking I was fine, that the alcohol wasn’t really taking effect. But I honestly couldn’t tell.

  The headliner took the stage, and the crowd squeezed in around us. We jumped to each song, rocking our heads and pumping our fists in the air. Serena appeared with another shot. I was so lost in the music, I hadn’t even noticed she’d disappeared.

  ‘This is it, Em!’ she yelled as she held up the shot. ‘It’s now or never!’ We tossed the liquid back easily – I seemed to have acquired a taste for it.

  Serena shouted encouragement as I walked towards James. Without a hint of emotion, he nodded his head slightly, letting me know the stage was all mine. My heart thrust to life, and my body buzzed with nerves. He murmured, ‘Good luck’, just before I hopped onto the platform.

  I shuffled to the centre of the stage and saw a few people pointing at me out of the corner of my eye. Another bouncer from the opposite side started moving towards me, and I knew I didn’t have much time. If I was going to do this, I had to do it fast. My breath quickened. I could feel the adrenaline pump through me until everything else was gone, and it was all I could feel.

  I turned my back to the audience, hoping they had their arms outstretched behind me. The lead singer continued belting out the lyrics. I glanced at him as his eyes twitched curiously. I grinned at him ever so slightly … and I fell back.

  My stomach opened up, and I let out an excited yell. Hands gripped, jostled and guided me across the crowd. Music bellowed around me. People hollered beneath me as I passed over them. The lights flew by in a blur of colour. I rode along the turbulent sea of hands until I was gently lowered to my feet. I stood in the spot for a moment, orienting myself as faces flashed before me. The crowd rocked in unison, their energy gliding over my skin like a hot breeze.

  I thrust my arm in the air, bellowing out the lyrics while jumping with the crowd. Serena burst through the bodies and screamed, ‘That was so fucking awesome!’ We leapt side by side until we were drenched in sweat, and there was no more music to kee
p us on our feet.

  We collapsed on our couch as everyone filed out. I had a permanent smile on my face, and all that pulsed through me was elation. The room swirled, and images shifted before my eyes. I blinked heavily, having a hard time holding my head steady.

  ‘I’m going to find James and get us some water,’ Serena told me. I think I nodded. If I didn’t, I meant to.

  A moment later, the couch jostled beside me. I flopped my head to the side and found a lean guy with tightly trimmed deep auburn hair and a chin capped with a buzz of whiskers.

  I smiled. Or maybe I hadn’t stopped.

  ‘Hi,’ he said, throwing his arm along the couch above my head. ‘I’m Aiden. ’

  ‘Hey, Aiden,’ I greeted loudly. ‘I’m Emma. ’

  ‘Emma, you shouldn’t be sitting here all by yourself. You need to come to a party with me and my friends. ’

  ‘I do?’ I laughed.

  ‘Yes, you do,’ he confirmed with a charming smile.

  ‘I’m waiting for my friend,’ I explained. ‘I don’t know where she is. ’ I couldn’t remember where Serena had disappeared to. The fog in my head was too thick to recall her words. ‘But then we’ll go … with you … to the party. ’ I smiled again – or I continued to.

  ‘You’re cute,’ he said, scooting in a little closer.

  ‘You’re not so bad yourself,’ my mouth said. He leaned over and thanked my mouth with a kiss, and I let him. I realized again that I couldn’t feel his lips. Or maybe it was my lips I couldn’t feel. I really needed to figure that out. I realized I was drunk. And I was okay with that too.


  Aiden pulled back. I was confused by his retreat, and when I opened my eyes, Serena was standing in front of me. She looked mad. Why was she mad?

  ‘Serena!’ I yelled enthusiastically. ‘There you are! This is Aiden. We’re going to a party with him. ’

  ‘Hi,’ he said.

  ‘Uh, no we’re not,’ she snipped. Wow. She was really mad. ‘Get lost, Aiden. ’

  Aiden pushed up from the couch. ‘See you later, Emma. ’ And then he disappeared.

  ‘Where’s he going?’ I asked in confusion.

  ‘Who cares,’ Serena muttered. ‘Let’s go home, Emma. ’

  ‘Are you mad at me, Serena?’ I asked, my smile lost.

  ‘No, Em,’ she sighed. ‘I just screwed up and fed you too many shots. You’re drunk, and you need to go to bed. ’

  ‘Yeah, I’m tired. ’

  I felt dizzy on the ride home, so I kept my eyes shut, but everything kept spinning. I pressed my head against the window, begging for it to stop. And then we did.

  ‘Em, we’re home,’ Serena announced.

  ‘Huh?’ I tried to lift my head, but it was so heavy. I blinked my eyes open as Serena appeared next to me by the open door. I stumbled to the front porch, leaning into her. My feet were clumsy, almost as bad as my head.

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