Reason to breathe, p.13
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       Reason to Breathe, p.13

         Part #1 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
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Page 13


  I looked at myself in the mirror and mindlessly wiped the remaining dried blood from around the bandages before I opened the bathroom door. I stepped into the hall to retrieve the broom and mop from the hall closet when George rounded the corner. He stopped and his eyes widened. But his shocked expression quickly dissolved.

  “Bump your head?” he asked casually.

  “That’s what I get for walking while reading,” I droned, knowing he would convince himself of anything except for the truth.

  “You should put some ice on it,” he recommended.

  “Mmm,” I agreed and walked back into the bathroom to complete my task.

  After my chores were completed, I returned to my room to find a bag of ice waiting for me on my desk.

  I gently put the bag of ice on the lump and watched Jack and Leyla chase after George in the backyard through my window – sworn to silence in my hell.

  I awoke in a panic around midnight. I stayed pressed to my pillow, my eyes fervently searching the room. I was breathing heavily; my shirt was damp with sweat. I tried to detach myself from the nightmare that had awoken me. It was hard to push away the urgency of the dream that had me pinned beneath the water, drowning. I took in a deep breath, confirming that I was still alive as the air passed easily through my lungs. They weren’t burning for oxygen as they had been in my dream. I had a hard time falling asleep after that. Sleep finally found me just before the sun rose.

  I was awoken by a hard knock on the door. “Are you going to sleep all day?” the voice barked from the other side.

  “I’m up,” I mustered in a rasp, hoping she wouldn’t come in. I looked at the digital clock next to my bed that read 8:30. I knew I had to take a shower before nine o’clock or do without. I slowly sat up with the throbbing pain, a reminder of my living nightmare. I needed to find a way to ice it again so the lump would be gone by the time I went to school tomorrow. I knew there was nothing I could do about the dark purple bruise. Thankfully the area around the cut wasn’t bruised. Sara’s new hairstyle was going to come in handy with covering up most of it.

  I gathered my clothes together and slipped into the bathroom without being seen. Washing my hair was more painful than I anticipated. I hadn’t realized how sore the back of my head was from her iron grip of my hair. I felt blood scabbed over where some of the hair had been forcefully removed. I was so focused on the contusion that the back of my head didn’t register until now. I gingerly used my fingertips to rub the shampoo into the front of my hair, but it still felt like a form of torture. I turned off the water before the knock and proceeded to dry off and get dressed. After gently drying my hair with a towel, I discovered that brushing my hair was worse than washing it. Tears filled my eyes with each stroke of the brush. There was no way I was going to be able to blow it dry. Reluctantly, I made the decision not to wash my hair the next day despite how atrocious I knew it would look after sleeping on it. I wasn’t willing to go through the pain again.

  “Does she know about this afternoon?” I heard Carol ask George from the kitchen as I sat at my desk engrossed in my Trigonometry homework.

  “Yeah, I told her yesterday,” he replied. “She’s going to the library and will be back for dinner. ”

  “And you believe she’s going to the library?” she asked doubtingly.

  “Why wouldn’t she?” he questioned.

  I didn’t hear a response from Carol.

  “I’ll be back around one,” she finally said. Then the back door opened and closed.

  “Want to go outside and play with Emma?” George asked the kids.

  “Yeah,” they screamed in unison.

  “Emma,” George bellowed through the closed door, “do you mind taking the kids outside?”

  “Be right there. ” I grabbed my fleece jacket and was greeted warmly by jumping, cheering kids.

  The rest of my day was actually fairly pleasant. I kicked the soccer ball around in the postage stamp backyard with Leyla and Jack. George and Carols’ house was modest, puny compared to Sara’s. The section of town we lived in was typical middle America, but compared to the Pleasantville of the rest of Weslyn, it might as well have been the other side of the tracks.

  I rode my bike to the library while George and Carol took the kids to the movies. I spent the remainder of the afternoon hidden in the stacks completing my assignments or in the computer room typing my English paper. I avoided human interaction at all cost, fearful of the reaction I’d receive at the sight of me. I finished with a few minutes to spare before I had to start home, so I called Sara on the pay phone.

  “Hi!” she exclaimed, a little too overzealous for someone I had just seen the day before. “How are you calling me?”

  “I’m at the library, on the pay phone. ”

  “Oh! I’ll be right there. ”

  “No,” I blurted before she could hang up the phone. “I’m leaving in a minute, but I wanted to prepare you for when you pick me up tomorrow. ”

  “What happened?” Sara asked with concern, almost panic.

  “I’m okay,” I calmly assured her, trying to downplay her reaction. “I fell and hit my head, so I have a bandage and a little bruise. It’s really no big deal. ”

  “Emma! What did she do to you?!” Sara yelled with a mix of fear and anger in her voice.

  “Nothing, Sara,” I corrected. “I fell. ”

  “Sure you did,” she said quietly. “Are you really okay?”

  “Yeah, I’m okay. I have to go, but I’ll see you in the morning. ”

  “Okay,” Sara replied reluctantly, before I hung up the phone.

  8. Bad Luck

  I woke up to the same routine as any other morning, until I looked in the mirror – reminded that there was nothing routine about my life. I took in my nightmare of a hairstyle and knew there was no way I could get away with not washing and drying it. I was already going to draw attention - I didn’t need to look like I’d slept on the streets as well.

  My head still throbbed but the golf ball had significantly reduced to being almost flush with my forehead. I was able to tolerate showering and brushing my hair, and my eyes only watered slightly when I dried it. Maybe I would be able to survive today after all.

  Then I saw Sara’s dropped jaw when I slid into the car. Sara didn’t say anything to me, and I couldn’t read her expression with her oversized sunglasses covering most of her face. She handed me a bottle of water and aspirin. Then again, maybe today was going to be one of the longest days of my life.

  “Thank you,” I said as I dumped a couple pills in my hand and swallowed them down with several large gulps of water. I tried to act natural, despite the tension.

  She barely glanced at me. I flipped the visor down to examine my cover-up in the mirror, trying to figure out what was making her so withdrawn. My bangs were swept across my forehead to conceal my bruise, and the bandages were barely noticeable under the fan of hair.

  “Okay,” I demanded. “Why aren’t you talking or looking at me?”

  “Emma,” she breathed in exasperation, “look at you!”

  “What?” I defended, glancing back up at the mirror. “I think I did a pretty good job of covering it up. ”

  “That’s what I mean. ” Her voice was shaky. It sounded like she was going to cry. “You should never have to cover anything up. I know you won’t tell me what happened, but I know you didn’t fall. Will you at least tell me what it was about?”

  “What does it matter?” My voice was small, not anticipating the strength of her reaction. I wasn’t expecting her to act like nothing happened, but I didn’t want her to cry.

  “It matters to me,” she choked. I watched her blot her eyes with a tissue under her glasses.

  “Sara, please don’t cry,” I pleaded. “I’m okay, I swear. ”

  “How can you be okay with this? You aren’t even angry. ”

  “I’ve had the weekend to get past it,” I admitted. “Besi
des, I don’t want to be angry. I don’t want to let her get to me. I’m not okay with this,” I said pointing to my head, “but what other choice do I have? I’ll deal with it. So please don’t cry. You’re making me feel horrible. ”

  “Sorry,” she murmured.

  We pulled into the parking lot, and she slid off her glasses, blotting her eyes while looking in the rearview mirror.

  “I’m okay,” she breathed, trying to produce a smile.

  “How bad does it look? Be honest. ”

  “You actually did a decent job hiding it,” she admitted. “I’m having a hard time because I know the truth. ” And then again, she didn’t know the half of it.

  “If anyone says anything, because I know they will, tell them I slipped on the wet floor and hit my head on the coffee table. ” She rolled her eyes at my lie.

  “What, do you have a better one?” I countered.

  “No,” she sighed. “Keep the aspirin. I know you’ll need them. ”

  “Ready?” I asked tentatively. I didn’t like seeing Sara upset, especially over me. The anger and sadness were in complete contrast to her personality. It was uncomfortable to witness.

  She released a heavy breath and nodded.

  I received a few questions about my injury from some of my soccer teammates and other brave gossipers, but most people just stared. I should’ve been used to the stares after Friday’s disaster. I wished I invisible once again - or at least ignorant of the gossip that was always happening around me.

  I found my way to English class without having to explain my fall to more than two or three more people. I sat in my usual seat, pulling out my paper to pass in.

  “Does it still hurt?” Evan asked from the chair next to mine. At that time, Brenda Pierce approached the seat she’d been sitting in since the first day of class and scowled to see it occupied. He smiled politely and shrugged.

  “Well, there’s one person who’s not going to like you,” I said wryly, trying to avoid the question.

  “She’ll get over it,” Evan stated with little interest. “So, do you still have a headache?”

  I drew my eyebrows together and reluctantly admitted, “I took some aspirin this morning. So, it’s better, as long as I don’t turn my head too quickly. ”

  “That’s good,” he said casually. Everyone else had asked what happened; no one bothered with how I was feeling – until Evan.

  “How was the rest of your weekend?” Evan whispered.

  “Okay,” I answered without looking over at him.

  Ms. Abbott began with the class discussion, handing out our newest reading assignment after we passed in our papers. She also handed us a short story which she allowed us to begin reading in class after she’d given us our writing assignment.

  “Are we talking, or not?” Evan whispered when Ms. Abbott stepped out of the room.

  “We are,” I glanced at him, confused. “Why?”

  “I can never figure you out. I want to make sure I’m on the same page today. ”

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