Out of breath, p.8
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       Out of Breath, p.8

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 8


  ‘Help me,’ Serena said.

  ‘I’m trying,’ I muttered.

  ‘How did this happen?’ Meg asked. Her arm slid around me.

  ‘My fault,’ Serena said. I followed the stairs up to my room, but I wasn’t sure if my legs were moving.

  ‘There you go, Em,’ Meg said as I felt the pillow cradle my head.

  ‘I fell off the stage,’ I told Meg, my tongue lazy and uncooperative.

  ‘You did what?’

  ‘She did a backwards stage dive,’ Serena clarified.

  My eyes wouldn’t stay open, so I couldn’t see Meg’s reaction. There was a tornado in my brain that kept the room spinning beneath my lids. I groaned and flopped my arm over my eyes to try to keep myself pinned down.

  ‘Just get some sleep,’ Meg said, pulling a blanket over me.

  When I woke the next day, my head was trying to split itself in half. Serena was overly apologetic, claiming she’d been so nervous about my stage dive that she thought she was helping take the edge off with the shots. I couldn’t connect the logic of how getting me drunk helped her nerves, but the knife plunged into my head distracted me from arguing the point. I vowed to never drink again … again.


  Not Boring

  I FELT A PRESENCE HOVERING ABOVE ME AS I bent over my Anatomy book with music blasting in my ears. I raised my head to find Cole standing across the communal table. I eyed him curiously, not expecting to see him standing across from me after I’d ditched him … twice.

  I removed my earbuds without a word and looked at him in expectation.

  ‘How’s the list of new things coming along?’ he whispered. ‘That was an impressive stage dive at The Grove a couple of weeks ago. ’

  ‘You were there?’ I wasn’t certain I liked that he’d witnessed the next thing on my list. The list that hadn’t existed before I’d met him. ‘I didn’t figure you for the type to like that kind of music. ’

  ‘I’m pretty open to anything,’ he answered casually. ‘Can’t always judge by appearances. ’

  It was true. I had judged him the moment I saw him. ‘I’m surprised you’re talking to me. ’

  ‘Me too,’ he replied. ‘I didn’t call you for a reason after Peyton gave me your number. A guy can only get blown off so many times before taking a hint. ’

  ‘So, why are you talking to me now?’

  ‘Maybe a part of me is convinced you’re not a total bitch,’ he answered, his eyes crinkling wryly.

  ‘Just most of me. ’ My mouth quirked slightly.

  ‘Well, I’ll let you get back to studying. I think my time’s about up. ’ He adjusted the strap of his backpack on his shoulder and turned to leave.

  ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

  ‘Before you walk away – it’s usually about now. ’ He gave me a crooked smile.

  ‘Nice,’ I smirked.

  Cole strode away without another comment, or a goodbye. I found myself following the untucked white T-shirt that hugged the contours of his muscular back until he was out of sight. I shook off the distraction, replaced the earbuds and dived back into studying the ventricles of the heart without giving him another thought. Mostly.

  I was packing up my laptop to head to the library and finish typing my Sociology paper when my phone rang. I noted the California listing on the screen and was prepared for a wrong number.

  ‘Hi. It’s Cole. ’

  My lips twitched in amusement. ‘I thought you weren’t going to use my number,’ I teased.

  ‘I decided to take a chance,’ he responded. ‘Not sure why, but I’m calling you anyway. ’

  I released an offended laugh. ‘Well, maybe I should let you go then. ’

  ‘Wait,’ he said quickly. ‘Don’t hang up. ’

  ‘I’m not much of a phone talker. And I’m on my way to the library. ’

  ‘It’s Saturday night. ’ He sounded confused. ‘Why aren’t you going out?’

  ‘Despite my resolution to try new things, I really don’t party much,’ I told him. ‘You just happened to be at every party and show I went to this year. ’

  ‘Lucky me,’ he replied, making me scrunch my forehead and wonder why I hadn’t hung up on him yet. ‘Meet me out. ’

  ‘What?’ I was stunned by the directness of his statement, like he was telling me versus asking. ‘Did you not hear the part about going to the library?’

  ‘Meet me on your way,’ he proposed. ‘Fifteen minutes, that’s it. ’

  I drew in a deep breath while considering his request. ‘Okay. ’

  ‘You’re not going to blow me off, are you?’ he asked bluntly. I stifled a laugh.

  ‘No, I won’t blow you off. ’

  ‘I’m at Joe’s. ’

  He hung up. The abruptness of it left me staring at the Call Ended time flashing on my screen. Why had I agreed to this? Glancing at my image in the mirror, I shrugged, not bothering to make an effort before slipping my canvas flip-flops on my feet. I really wasn’t concerned if this guy saw me without make-up and wearing a holey T-shirt and cargo pants. I zipped up my hoodie before heading towards the stairs.

  Peyton peeked out of her room, her hair in hot curlers. ‘Where are you going?’

  ‘To Joe’s, then the library,’ I answered without looking back as I tromped down the stairs.

  ‘Why are you going to Joe’s?’

  ‘To meet Cole,’ I hollered back, before closing the door behind me.

  It was past the dinner rush when I entered the sports bar, and way too early for the college drinkers. Various sizes of flat-screen TVs suspended at every angle broadcasted different athletic events to the virtually empty room. Cole was poised on a stool at the bar, watching a college basketball game on the large screen. I sat down next him without a word, my eyes on the TV.

  ‘Wow, you’re here,’ he gawked, shifting towards me.

  ‘Fifteen minutes,’ I reminded him, inspiring the return of that crooked grin.

  ‘Fair enough. ’ He took a sip of the beer he had clasped between his hands, and I remained quiet, watching the game. ‘Oh, you’re still going to make me do all the talking, huh?’ he noted with a chuckle.

  ‘I’ll talk. But you’ll probably be disappointed, because I don’t have a lot to reveal. ’

  ‘If you’re too boring, I just won’t call you again. ’ One side of his mouth curled up when I raised my eyebrows in offence.

  ‘I’m anything but boring,’ I retorted, focused on his clear blue eyes.

  ‘I had a feeling,’ he murmured, not breaking the connection. I redirected my gaze back to the game, even though I had no idea who was playing and couldn’t concentrate enough to figure out who was winning. I fidgeted on the stool and tried to contain the impulse to get up and walk out the door, knowing it was what I should do.

  ‘So, have you thought about the next new thing to add to your list?’

  ‘Um …’ I cast my eyes towards the ceiling in thought and said the first thing that came into my head. ‘Skinny-dipping. ’ Granted, I’d never had the desire to strip out of my clothes and swim before, but I hadn’t done it yet – so I blurted it without considering whether I would.

  ‘You don’t have anything small on your list, do you? It’s all or nothing?’

  All in, huh?

  A hot spear shot through my chest as his words echoed a voice from my past.

  ‘That’s the point,’ I responded calmly, despite the tension along my back.

  Cole chuckled with a small shake of his head. Evidently he found me entertaining. ‘As long as you don’t go skinny-dipping at a party – that would be a little too much. ’

  ‘That’s not my style. ’

  ‘But jumping in the pool completely clothed is?’

  ‘I wasn’t supposed to get pulled in,’ I explained. ‘But I had a little too much to drink, and I wasn’t fast enough when she grabbed me. ’

  ‘So, you were pushing your room-mate
in?’ he clarified. I nodded.

  He laughed. ‘You’re crazy. ’

  ‘Yeah, I think am. ’

  Cole held the amused expression on his face for a moment longer, and then he noticed that I wasn’t joking. His eyebrows pulled together. ‘You’re serious?’ I shrugged in admission.

  I stood from my stool. This seemed like the best time to make my exit – he was way too intrigued.

  Cole looked at his watch. ‘Uh, we still have six minutes. ’

  ‘Not any more,’ I replied and headed towards the door with a committed stride. I thought I heard him let out an exasperated breath, or it could’ve been the air in my lungs that I’d been holding in since I sat down. I shouldn’t have come here to begin with. I’d hoped I could convince him that I wasn’t worth his time. Not even fifteen minutes of it.

  ‘You promised fifteen minutes,’ he declared, jogging up next to me on the sidewalk.

  ‘Wow, you’re either the most stubbornly determined person I’ve ever met, or you love the abuse. Because I know it’s not my charming personality. ’

  The corner of his mouth lifted. ‘I think it’s morbid curiosity, because no, you’re not all that pleasant to be around. ’

  I sighed in exasperation. ‘I don’t understand you. ’

  ‘What do you want to know?’ he offered, seeming sincere. ‘I’ll tell you anything. ’

  I quickened my pace towards my car.

  ‘Walk with me,’ he suggested. ‘For’ – he glanced at his watch – ‘another four and a half minutes. ’

  ‘Fine. I’ll feed into your twisted curiosity and give you your four minutes,’ I said sharply. ‘Tell me something about you worth knowing. ’

  ‘Worth knowing? Wow, that’s pressure,’ he pondered. As I glanced at my watch he blurted out: ‘I surf. ’

  ‘And that was more predictable than the sun rising every day,’ I scoffed. ‘Is there anything you do that most of the state doesn’t?’

  ‘Well, I’m not exactly adrenaline-driven like you,’ he countered. ‘I don’t live my life in quest of the next adventure; sorry to disappoint. ’

  He should have been pissed off. He should have turned around and told me to fuck off. But he didn’t. He was seriously considering my question. He stopped along the sidewalk, next to a house with an ill-fated garden.

  ‘Umm … okay. ’ He paused in contemplation. ‘I listen to silence. ’ With this, he started walking again. I stared after him. At first I thought he was antagonizing me with his cryptic response, but then it struck me that he was serious. I caught up with him.

  ‘I’m pretty good at it too. It might have something to do with having four sisters and never getting a word in. I became a sort of expert at listening to what no one said. I could tell when my older sister was fighting with her boyfriend, or when my younger sister was mad at my mother, or when my youngest sister was frustrated when she couldn’t run as fast as she wanted to in track. I knew my parents were getting a divorce way before it happened, even though my sisters swear they had no idea. ’ Cole stopped and turned to face me. ‘I listen to silence. And you –’ his mouth pulled into a smirk – ‘you have a lot to say. Although I haven’t quite figured out what it is yet. ’

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