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REASON TO BREATHE BY REBECCA DONOVAN: 36. Dinner

36. Dinner

“Where is it?” she shrieked, startling me as I poured a capful of detergent
into the washer.
Stunned, I watched her rush to the laundry area and begin throwing
clothes around. The clothes started bouncing against my body. Of
course they didn’t hurt, but the ferocity behind the throws stil made
me flinch.
“What did you do with it?” she demanded.
“What?” I asked quietly.
“The fucking towel,” she screamed. “The one you ruined. What the
fuck did you do with it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied. I’d thrown away the
bloodstained hand towel I used to stop my fingers from bleeding. But
how did she know?

“You know exactly what I’m talking about, you worthless piece of shit.”
She continued throwing clothes in my direction. She looked ridiculous
in her fit of rage, creating a windstorm of clothes tossed about the
basement. I straightened up, no longer cowering, and I looked at this
pathetic woman for the first time. My stomach twisted in disgust and
anger. I was fed up with her irrational tirades.
“It’s just a towel,” my voice belowed over her screams. She froze,
shocked by the strength in my tone.
“What did you say?” she hissed. I stared back, unwavering, even with
her “how dare you” look. As I stood there, staring her down, I suddenly
realized how much taler I was than her. I smirked at the thought
of my shrinking cowardice.
“It’s just a towel,” I repeated calmly, but with a confidence that kept
me extended above her. I turned to shut the lid of the washer.
“It’s just a towel?” she grunted, shoving the softener bottle right in my
gut when I turned around. The air rushed from me, bending me in half
as I held my stomach. She raised the bottle again and came down on
my shoulder, crumpling me to the floor. I wanted to run for the stairs,
but there was one last blow to my left arm, and I folded against the
washer. “Don’t ever fucking talk to me like that again.”
“Carol,” George yeled down the stairs, “you down there?
Your mother’s on the phone.”
Carol trod off, grumbling, “Clean this up,” before she climbed the
stairs.

I colapsed to the floor, stil breathing heavily from getting the wind
knocked out of me. My fists were clenched, my nails digging into my
palms. I inhaled deeply to calm the fire. It didn’t disappear completely,
but it was enough so that I could pul myself up and begin picking up
her mess.
“Emma,” George knocked on my door. “Evan’s here.”
My throat closed – he was in my house? What was he thinking?
“Okay,” I squeaked, unable to find my voice. “I’l be right there.” Something
roled inside me as I grabbed my jacket and walked down the
hal.
“Hi,” I said with wide eyes. He ignored my anxiety and smiled back.
“It’s great to finaly meet you,” Carol declared with the widest smile. It
was torturous to witness.
“You too,” Evan returned politely.
“Wel… we should go.” The words rushed from my mouth in a single
breath.
“Ten o’clock, okay?” Carol confirmed in her sweet tone. I winced at the
sound.
“Yeah.” I tried to force myself to smile, but if felt more like a grimace.
Evan put his hand on my back to escort me out. I stiffened, knowing
they were stil watching us. I hoped she hadn’t noticed that he was
touching me.

“What were you thinking?” I exclaimed in a whisper while we walked
down the driveway.
“Em, they knew you were coming over to my house,” he explained. “I
couldn’t bring myself to just pul up and honk. It doesn’t matter who
they are; that’s not who I am.”
It was unsettling to see him in my kitchen – the place of so much pain.
The two images fought in my brain, making the discomfort harder to
relinquish.
“You don’t have to walk me to the door tonight, okay?” I pleaded.
“Okay,” he agreed reluctantly. “But can I at least kiss you goodnight?”
A smile flashed across his face, relieving my anxiety.
“We’l see,” I replied with a teasing grin.
When we neared his house, a new anxiety revealed itself. My chest
closed in around my lungs.
“Are you ready for this?” Evan asked, puling into the driveway.
“Sure,” I exhaled, trying to force a composed smile. He laughed at my
unsuccessful attempt.
Evan took my hand as we walked up the porch steps. I guess it didn’t
matter to him that his parents saw us touching. This was going to be
so strange.
“Emily, welcome,” Vivian greeted when we entered. She floated over to
give me an embrace, I was finaly prepared for, and I awkwardly returned
the gesture.

An enticing aroma floated across the kitchen as we sat at the peninsula.
I was stil awed by Vivian’s grace as she glided around the cooking
space, stirring, chopping and mixing. I’d always associated the setting
with Evan, but tonight, Evan sat next to me and observed his mother
on the other side, with his hand affectionately on my back.
“Do you want me to do anything?” he offered.
“No, we’re just about done,” she announced. “Your father’s removing
the steaks from the gril, and I’m putting the salad together. Wel, you
could offer Emily something to drink.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” he fumbled, redirecting his attention to me.
“What would you like to drink?”
“You know what I like,” I responded. A smal grin appeared on his
mother’s face with my response.
“I’m happy to see you’re feeling better,” she offered. “I understand you
were rather il last weekend.”
“Yes, but I’m feeling much better now. Thank you.”
“I hope the tea helped.”
“It did, thank you,” I replied politely, not recaling if I finished the cup.
Evan tried to conceal his smile, probably realizing I hadn’t.
“Steaks are ready,” Stuart announced, walking through the door with a
platter of smal steaks.
“Perfect timing,” Vivian declared. “Everything is ready. Evan, dear,
would you please help bring the food to the table?”

“Sure.” Evan found bowls and serving utensils to pair with the sides
and carried them to the dining table. I hadn’t noticed the set table with
decorative china and sparkling flatware until I turned to folow him. In
the center, an intricate candelabrum let off a dazzling glow. I wasn’t
prepared for the formal setting.
“Shal we?” Vivian addressed me as she walked toward the table carrying
a bottle of wine.
I picked up my glass to folow her. She and Stuart sat on either end
while Evan and I sat facing each other in the middle. Evan shot me a
grin when we sat down. I gave him a panicked smile, which made him
laugh. His mother looked at him, questioning his outburst. He attempted
to conceal it with a clearing of his throat. My stomach was twisting
with nerves; I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat. I practicaly force fed
myself every bite, despite the fact that is was one of the best meals I’d
had since… wel, since Evan cooked for me.
“How was your visit to California?” Vivian inquired the moment I put
a piece of steak in my mouth. My face turned red as she patiently
waited for me to swalow so I could answer.
“I loved it,” I finaly responded.
“Are you stil looking at Stanford as your first choice?”
“Yes, I realy enjoyed the meetings with the coach and the advisor,” I
explained. “It’s going to come down to my SAT scores and how I perform
this coming soccer season. But so far, they seem very interested.”
“Have you decided on a major?”
“That did come up, and with my strong science and math background,
the advisor mentioned pre-med.”

Evan’s eyes widened in surprise. Yeah, I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone
before this moment.
“That would be wonderful,” she acknowledged with a smile.
“Evan, have you narrowed down your selections yet?”
“Mom, let’s not do this,” he begged. “You know where I’m looking. My
mother wants me to go to Cornel with my brother,” he explained to
me, “and my father wants me to go to Yale like he did.”
“Oh,” I nodded, realizing both coleges were on the wrong coast.
“Wel, I suppose California would make sense if Emily was there,” Vivian
admitted with a slight rise of her shoulder. Stuart cleared his
throat. “Stuart, California has some excelent schools.”
Hearing our future being planned before me was surreal. It wasn’t that
I didn’t want a future with Evan. I honestly hadn’t thought much
about it until this moment. However, listening to his mother plan our
future, didn’t feel quite right.
“Mom,” Evan stressed, obviously just as uncomfortable, “we have
plenty of time to talk about it. Let’s talk about something else, okay?”
“If you insist,” she agreed with an endearing smile. “Are you looking
forward to going to the prom next month?”
Evan choked on his water. I stopped breathing.
“What?” she questioned Evan’s obvious disruption.

“We haven’t exactly talked about it yet,” he confessed, glancing at me
apologeticaly. I looked down at my plate and moved the asparagus
around with my fork.
“Evan,” she scolded, “she needs time to pick out a dress. You should
have asked her already.”
I bit my lip trying not to smile.
“Wel, if you would like some assistance in finding a dress,” she directed
her attention to me, “I would be happy to take you to this fabulous
boutique in New York.”
“Okay, thank you,” I stuttered. Evan tensed at the offer. The thought of
it horrified me. I could barely survive shopping with Sara at the mal.
“Since I seem to be suggesting the wrong conversational topics,” Vivian
declared, directing her words towards Evan, “what would you like
to talk about?”
Evan looked up, recognizing she was addressing him.
“Dad, how’s work?” he asked quickly. Vivian let out an exasperated
sigh.
“Emily does not need to hear about his tedious cases,” Vivian interrupted
before Stuart could open his mouth. I wasn’t sure if Stuart actualy
intended to open his mouth. “We’re supposed to be getting to know
her.” No, that’s not a good idea either. She offered me a warm smile,
which I attempted to return. My stomach churned in anticipation of
her impending question.
“What does your uncle do?” she asked politely.

I swalowed hard. We were realy going to talk about my family, weren’t
we?
“He’s a land surveyor.”
“That’s wonderful,” she replied. “I understand that your father passed
away when you were young. What did he do?”
Evan gave me a worried glance. I took a breath and replied,
“He was an engineer for an architectural firm in Boston.”
“Mom, aren’t you working on a charity event in Boston?” Evan intercepted
before his mother could ask another revealing question. Vivian
beamed at the chance to talk about one of her projects. Thankfuly, she
went into enough detail about the event that the conversation lasted
for the remainder of dinner.
“You and Evan should attend it with us,” she decided as she set the
dessert in front of us. Evan grumbled, not hiding his distaste of the invitation.
“Evan, stop that. It’s a wonderful cause and you’l be able to
meet so many people in the medical industry since it’s for the
hospital.”
“When did you say it was?” I inquired.
“The middle of June.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I replied, trying to sound disappointed. “I’l be away at
the soccer camp by then.”
“Evan, is that the camp you applied for, as wel?”
I turned toward Evan, unaware that he had applied.

“Oh, yeah,” he answered, meeting my questioning eyes. “Sara gave me
the application a few weeks ago. But, I’m not sure if they have a spot
open.”
The thought of spending the summer with Sara and Evan produced a
glowing grin. Evan smiled in response to my radiant expression. Vivian
asked me to explain the camp while we ate dessert, which was finaly
an easy topic, having been an assistant coach there for the past
two summers.
After dessert, Vivian excused us and escorted me to the sitting room.
Evan warily watched us leave while he and his father cleaned up the
dishes. When he eventualy joined us, I knew why.
“You are not showing her my baby pictures!” He sounded horrified,
which made me laugh.
“Come on, Evan,” I teased with a laughing smile, “you were adorable.”
“I know,” Vivian acknowledged, not understanding his reaction.
“Okay,” he announced, “I think you’ve had her long enough.”
Evan closed the photo book that was in my lap and placed it on the
table. He held out his hand to take me away.
“We’re going to the barn before I have to drive her home.”
“I suppose,” Vivian said with a sigh. “It was so nice to finaly get to talk
with you.” She gave me a hug and kissed my cheek. “I look forward to
seeing you again.”
“Good night,” I said to Stuart as Evan led me through the kitchen.

“Good night, Emily,” Stuart’s bold voice returned.
“Was it that horrible for you?” I laughed while we climbed the stairs.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Evan returned. When we
entered the room, he turned to face me, looking al too serious.
“I’m sorry about that. I tried to give her boundaries, but she doesn’t
listen very wel.”
“It was fine,” I assured him. He wrapped his arms around me and
kissed me gently.
“You’re birthday’s in a couple of weeks,” I said, looking up at him from
within his wrap. “What would you like to do?”
“Wil you be able to do anything on the Friday of my actual birthday?”
I sucked in air through my teeth and shook my head apologeticaly.
“Saturday?” I offered.
“Okay,” he agreed. “So, I’l do something with the guys on Friday.
Maybe go to the city or something. Then Saturday’s just you and me.”
“Dinner?” I suggested. Evan considered my offer, then smirked.
“Yeah,” he said, grinning. “I have an idea.”
“I’m missing something.” I was mystified by the look in his eye. I knew
he was contriving a plan that he wasn’t sharing.
“No,” he said quickly. “Dinner is perfect. But can I choose?”

“Sure,” I agreed slowly, stil not trusting his reaction. Carol and George
were waiting for me when I returned home. Wel, they pretended to be
sitting at the island talking, but I was pretty sure they wanted to see if
Evan would walk me to the door. I was so glad I’d convinced him not
to, even when he tried to change my mind on the drive home.
“How was your night?” Carol inquired, with an edge to her tone.
“It was nice,” I responded quietly, trying to continue to my room.
“We need to lay down some ground rules,” George declared, making
me stop and close my eyes. I turned to listen to their determination to
destroy my world even more.
“You cannot go to Evan’s when no one’s home,” Carol demanded. “If
we hear otherwise, you won’t be alowed to see him anymore. And that
means when you’re at Sara’s too.”
“He is not alowed to drive you home after school,” George added. “We
don’t care if he drives you to school, but you can only drive with Sara
or one of your other girlfriends in the afternoon.”
“And lastly,” Carol stated with a cutting grin, “if we find out that you
are having sex, you wil not be alowed to take a step out of this house
until you graduate, except to go to school.”
I remained motionless while her threat turned over in my head.
“Why are you looking at us like that?” she griped. “Are we not making
ourselves clear?”
“I don’t understand why you’d assume I’d have sex with him,”

I replied, my voice sounding more accusatory than defensive. “You
know nothing about me, do you?”
“We know enough,” Carol bit. “We know you are naïve and can easily
be taken advantage of. Don’t think for a second he cares about you.
He’s just like every other guy who only wants one thing.”
“You don’t know anything about him either,” I shot back, my voice
growing stronger.
Carol raised her eyebrows at my reaction, while George’s face tensed.
“Maybe we should reconsider whether you’re ready to date at al,”
Carol threatened. My heart stopped. “Is there something we should
know? Are you already having sex?”
“No,” I answered quickly as the panicked heat crept up my neck.
“Then this conversation is over,” George finaly interceded.
“You know how we feel, and that’s it.”
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