Out of breath, p.9
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       Out of Breath, p.9

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 9

 

  My brow creased as I stared back into the depths of his eyes. I didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t want to be this puzzle he was trying to solve, or listen to.

  ‘Time’s up,’ I announced, starting back towards my car. Something stirred inside me, something I wasn’t comfortable with.

  Cole jogged to catch up. ‘I think we should hang out again,’ he concluded as he followed me down the sidewalk.

  ‘You do? Why? Wasn’t this disastrous enough?’

  He just laughed in response.

  ‘I promise not to delve into what makes your silence so loud, if you promise not to walk out on me. ’

  I should have said no. I should have kept walking and let him go on with his life, without my interference. But I didn’t.

  I crossed my arms and released an impatient breath. ‘Fine. Let’s see how interesting you really are. ’

  He shook his head with a wry grin before replying. ‘You’re not going to pressure me into coming up with something crazy to do. We’ll just hang out – plain and simple. ’

  ‘I will limit my expectations,’ I goaded.

  He ignored my remark and said, ‘I won’t be around much, since I have a big paper due next week. But how about after?’

  ‘Maybe I’ll see you at the library. I pretty much live there. ’ I stopped walking, and he eyed me curiously. ‘Uh, I can make it to my car from here. ’

  ‘Right. Time’s up. ’ He turned in the opposite direction and walked away without saying goodbye … again.

  Cole didn’t say anything when he pulled the chair away from the table and sat across from me in the library the next night. I looked over the top of my laptop as he began pulling books out of his backpack, then returned my attention to the screen and kept typing.

  He didn’t acknowledge me in any way, just concentrated on his work. This continued throughout the week. Each night I’d sit at the same table, and he’d sit across from me. I wouldn’t have known he was there at all except that his hair was so shockingly blond that it would catch my eye as he bent over his books, taking notes. We didn’t talk, or attempt conversation. When he was done, he’d close up his books and leave without saying a word – it was a little strange, but I dismissed it easily enough.

  ‘Do you want to get something to eat?’ he whispered across to me on Friday. I was calculating a Statistics problem and erasing – a lot. I hated Statistics.

  Shocked to hear his voice, I glanced up into translucent blue eyes that awaited my answer.

  ‘Are you hungry? I’m getting something to eat, and was asking if you’d like to come along. ’

  ‘I’m not quite done. I need to stay a little longer. ’ I bent over my notebook and figured he’d walk away like he usually did.

  ‘How about tomorrow?’ he persisted. I raised my eyes inquisitively, wary of his motives.

  ‘I don’t date. ’

  ‘I wasn’t asking you on a date,’ he clarified, his neck turning slightly red. ‘I was just asking you to get something to eat – you need to eat, right?’

  ‘That I do. ’ I deliberated. ‘But no, I don’t want to get something to eat with you tomorrow. ’

  ‘Are you trying to be cruel, or is it just me?’

  ‘It’s just you. ’ I continued to work out the math equation in front of me.

  When he remained silent, I looked up to find him watching me intently. His eyes narrowed in on me for a silent moment, as if trying to read whether I was sincerely messing with him. Then he stood up to walk away.

  I let out a breath and said, ‘Fine. I’ll meet you at The Alley at seven tomorrow night … for food. ’

  ‘Yeah, just food. ’ His annoying crooked smile now flustered me because I had no idea what it meant. I found myself looking after him as he walked around the corner. I couldn’t be cruel enough to make him stay away, but I was certain that he should. I bowed my head and returned to the misery of my assignment.

  6

  A Thousand Words

  MY EARS PICKED UP THE MUSICAL CHIME coming from my nightstand before my brain could understand what it was hearing. I hit the snooze button, but the notes continued. I squinted an eye open to peer at the clock. It was after three in the morning. The chiming stopped, and I fell back into my pillow.

  My phone started ringing again, insistent that I pick it up. I groaned and grappled with the device, pulling it in front of my face.

  ‘Sara?’ I grumbled, my voice still lost in the world of sleep.

  ‘Emma!’ she sobbed, her voice broken and full of pain. I bolted upright.

  ‘Sara, what is it?’ I demanded urgently, sitting in the dark of my room with my heart pounding. I tried to remain patient as I heard her strain to catch her breath. ‘Sara, please tell me. ’

  ‘He’s engaged!’ she screamed in piercing agony. My entire body stilled. A moment passed, and all I could hear were her deafening cries.

  ‘Who’s engaged?’ I whispered, knowing the answer.

  ‘Jared,’ she whimpered. She collapsed into something that muffled her cries. I waited until she finally said, ‘I saw it … in The Times …’

  And then there was nothing.

  ‘Sara?’ My phone displayed the lost connection message. ‘Shit. ’ I dialled her back, only to hear the blaring of a busy signal. Frustrated and still confused, I pushed my blankets back, flipping on the bedside lamp.

  I tried to call her back again, but was blocked by the same bleeping signal. I scrambled to my desk and booted up my laptop.

  I searched ‘Mathews’ and ‘New York Times’ and was directed to a link. The page opened to the engagement section of The Times, featuring a large black-and-white photo of Jared and a girl. I stared at the screen in disbelief.

  It wasn’t a professionally posed engagement photo. They were surrounded by formally dressed people at some kind of function. The photographer captured an image of them walking hand in hand. Jared was grinning slightly, while the girl next to him was simply glowing, with a vibrant, open-mouthed laugh. Her dark eyes twinkled, even in the colourless image. Her brown hair was swept up into a loose style, with elegant wisps framing her undeniably stunning face. She held a hand up, as if to cover her laugh, and there it was … the ring. A huge square diamond on her left hand.

  I couldn’t focus on the words announcing their engagement. I didn’t care when they were getting married. I didn’t even care what her name was. Sara’s heart was being torn out of her chest in another country, without me there to console her. I called back again, and just as the phone started to ring, my eyes shifted. And I saw Evan.

  He was in the background, within the crowd of partygoers. Most of his face was cut from the picture, though with the distinct structure of his jaw and the sharp lines of his mouth, there was no denying it was him. I did, however, have a full view of the girl draped around his left arm. It was hard to forget the detestably smug grin of Catherine Jacobs, the same girl who’d practically thrown herself at him at the dinner we’d attended years ago at her parents’ house. She looked very comfortable on his arm, like she thought she belonged there.

  ‘Emma?’ Sara answered. ‘Are you there?’ But I could barely hear her.

  My insides had fallen into a bottomless pit, and my throat had closed up.

  ‘Emma?’

  I dropped the phone and rushed to the bathroom, crashing the door against the wall, just in time to reach the toilet before expelling the contents of my stomach. I broke out into a cold sweat, gripping the rim of the seat tightly as my entire body convulsed.

  ‘Emma?’ Meg’s soothing voice came from the open door of the bathroom. ‘Are you okay?’ Then I heard her say, ‘She’s here, Sara. But she’s sick. ’

  ‘No,’ I coughed, shaking my head. ‘No, I’m here. ’ I dropped the tissue that I’d used to wipe my mouth into the toilet before closing the lid and flushing it. I flopped onto the floor with my back against the wall, my muscles trembling as if I were sitting outsid
e in the middle of a snowstorm. ‘Let me talk to her. ’ I reached out my unsteady hand.

  Meg studied me for a moment, then stepped into the small bathroom and handed me her phone. She didn’t leave when I put it to my ear, opting to sit on the edge of the bathtub.

  ‘Sara?’ I rasped, my throat raw. ‘I’m so sorry. ’ I ran the back of my hand across my upper lip, clearing the ledge of sweat. I couldn’t stop shaking. My shirt was damp, and my hair was plastered to my face like I’d just woken up from a nightmare. But I was very much awake.

  ‘You saw,’ she whispered knowingly.

  ‘Yeah,’ I returned quietly. ‘I wish I were there, with you. ’

  ‘Me too,’ she whimpered. My eyes blurred. Hot tears streaked down my cold, clammy skin.

  ‘But I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. Just close your eyes, and it will be like I’m right there next to you. We’re facing each other, and I’m holding your hand. I’m there, Sara. ’

  ‘I don’t understand,’ she cried. ‘I don’t understand why he didn’t tell me. Why did I have to see it in the fucking newspaper?’ She released a scream full of anger and pain. I remained silent. ‘He knew I’d see it. He knew how much it would kill me. ’ Her voice cracked, and she broke into heart-crushing sobs. I closed my eyes, and tears continued to cascade down my face.

  I’d almost forgotten Meg was in the bathroom with me until I felt her hand in mine. I laid my head on her shoulder and listened to Sara cry. My back ached from holding in my own sobs. But I couldn’t do that to her. She needed me. I had to push away my pain so there was room enough for hers.

  ‘Emma?’ she whispered.

  ‘I’m still here,’ I answered softly. ‘I just don’t know what to say. ’

  ‘You don’t have to say anything,’ she replied, sniffling. ‘Stay on the phone with me, okay?’

  ‘For as long as you need me,’ I promised.

  ‘Emma,’ Meg beckoned to me, pulling back my thin veil of sleep. I blinked my eyes and realized I still had the phone to my ear, but it was quiet on the other end. I sat up from Meg’s lap and stretched. My neck felt contorted and cramped.

  ‘Sorry,’ I muttered.

  ‘It’s okay. ’ Meg stretched her hands over her head and yawned. ‘I fell asleep too. ’

  ‘What time is it?’ I asked, slowly pushing myself off the bathroom floor.

  ‘Almost seven,’ she groaned, standing too. I handed back her phone. ‘I’m going to bed. Em, will you be okay?’ I blinked at her through bleary, bloodshot eyes.

  ‘I’m fine,’ I answered automatically, not giving myself a second to consider otherwise. But I knew I wasn’t. The acrid reminder still burned the back of my throat. After dragging my feet to the bedroom, I picked up my phone from the floor and sent Sara a text to call me whenever she needed. Then I climbed into my bed, pulled the blanket over me, and shut everything out until I was forced to face it again.

 
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