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REASON TO BREATHE BY REBECCA DONOVAN : Nonexistent

1. Nonexistent
Breathe. My eyes sweled as I swalowed against the lump in my throat.
Frustrated with my weakness, I swiftly brushed the tears my throat.
Frustrated with my weakness, I swiftly brushed the tears that had
forced their way down my cheeks with the back of my hand. I couldn’t
think about it anymore - I would explode. I looked around the room
that was mine, but had no true connection to me - a hand-me-down
desk with a mismatched chair against the wal across from me with a
three tiered bookcase that had seen too many homes in too many years
next to it. There were no pictures on the wals. No reminder of who I
was before I came here. It was just a space where I could hide – hide
from the pain, the glares and the cutting words.
Why was I here? I knew the answer. It wasn’t a choice to be here; it
was a necessity. I had nowhere else to go, and they couldn’t turn their
backs on me. They were the only family I had, and for that I couldn’t
be grateful.
I lay on my bed, attempting to divert my attention to my homework. I
winced as I reached for my Trigonometry book. I couldn’t believe it
was sore already. Great! It looked like I’d be wearing long sleeves
again this week.
The aching pain in my shoulder caused the images of the horrific exchange
to flash through my head. I felt the anger rising, making me
clench my jaw and grit my teeth. I took a deep breath and alowed the
dul wash of nothingness to envelop me. I needed to push it out of my
head, so I forced myself to concentrate on my homework.
I was awoken by a soft tap at my door. I propped myself up on my elbows
and tried to focus in my dark room. I must have been asleep for
about an hour, but didn’t remember dozing off.
“Yeah,” I answered, my voice caught in my throat.
“Emma?” the smal cautious voice caled out as my door slowly opened.
“You can come in Jack.” I tried to sound welcoming despite my
crushed disposition.
His hand gripped the doorknob, as his head - not much taler than the
knob - peaked in.
Jack’s enlarged brown eyes scanned the room until they connected
with mine - I could tel he was nervous about what he might find - and
smiled at me in relief. He knew way too much for his six years.
“Dinner’s ready,” he said, looking down. I realized it wasn’t the message
he wanted to be responsible to give me.
“Okay, I’l be right there.” I tried to smile back to assure him it was
okay. He walked toward the voices in the other room. The clatter of
platters and bowls being set on the table along with Leyla’s excited
voice awaited me down the hal. If anyone were to observe this routine,
they would think this was the picture perfect American family sitting
down to enjoy dinner together. The picture changed when I crept out
of my room. The air became thick with discord with the crushing reminder
that I existed, a blemish to their portrait. I took another deep
breath and tried to convince myself I could get through this. It’s just
another night, right? But that was the problem.
I walked slowly down the hal and into the light of the dining room. My
stomach turned as I crossed the threshold. I kept my gaze down at my
hands that I twisted in anticipation. To my relief, I wasn’t noticed
when I entered the room.
“Emma!” Leyla exclaimed, running to me. I bent down, alowing her to
jump into my arms. She gave me a tight embrace around my neck. I
released a breathy grunt when the pain shot up my arm.
“Did you see my picture?” she asked, so proud and excited of her
swirls of pink and yelow. I felt the glare on my back, knowing that if it
were a knife, I’d be incapacitated instantly.
“Mom, did you see my drawing of Tyrannosaurs Rex?” I heard Jack
ask, attempting to distract the attention away from my disruption.
“That’s wonderful, honey,” she praised, redirecting her attention to
her son.
“It’s beautiful,” I said softly to Leyla, looking into her dancing brown
eyes. “Why don’t you go ahead and sit for dinner, okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed, having no idea that her affectionate gesture had
caused tension at the dinner table. How could she? She was four, and
to her I was the older cousin she idolized, while she was my sun in this
dark house. I could never blame her for the added grief her fondness
for me caused. The conversation picked up and I thankfuly became invisible
once again.
After waiting until everyone was served, I helped myself to the chicken,
peas and potatoes. I could sense that my every move was being
scrutinized, so I kept my focus on my plate while I ate. I knew that
what I’d taken wasn’t enough to satisfy my hunger, but I didn’t dare
take more.
I didn’t listen to the words coming from her mouth as she went on and
on about her trying day at work. Her voice raked through me, making
my stomach turn. George responded with a comforting remark, attempting
to re-assure her as he always did. The only acknowledgement
I received was when I asked to be excused. George looked across the
table with his ambivalent eyes and dryly granted my request.
I gathered my plate, along with Jack and Leyla’s, since they’d already
left to watch TV in the living room. I began my nightly routine of
scraping plates and placing them in the dishwasher, along with scrubbing
the pots and pans George used to prepare the dinner.
I waited for the voices to move into the living room before I returned
to the table to finish clearing. After washing the dishes, taking out the
trash and sweeping the floor, I headed back to my room. I passed by
the living room with the sounds of the TV and the kids laugher in the
background. I slipped by unnoticed, as usual. I lay on my bed, plugging
in the ear buds to my iPod, and turned up the volume so my mind
was too preoccupied with the music to think. Tomorrow I would have
a game after school that would keep me late, missing our wonderful
family dinner. I breathed deep and closed my eyes. Tomorrow was another
day – one day closer to leaving this al behind.
I roled on my side, forgetting about my shoulder for a moment, until
painfuly reminded of what I was leaving behind. I shut off my light
and let the music drone me to sleep.
~~~~~
I grabbed a granola bar on my way through the kitchen with my duffle
bag in hand and backpack slung on my shoulder. Leyla’s eyes widened
with delight when she saw me. I went over and kissed the top of her
head, making a conscious effort to ignore the penetrating glare I was
receiving from across the room. Jack was sitting next to Leyla at the island
eating cereal - he slipped me a piece of paper without looking up.
“Good Luck!” was written in purple crayon with an adorable attempt
at a soccer bal drawn in black. He glanced at me quickly to catch my
expression, and I flashed a half smile, so she wouldn’t pick up on our
interaction. “Bye guys,” I said, turning toward the door.
Before I could reach it, her cold hand gripped my wrist.
“Leave it.”
I turned towards her. Her back was shielding the kids from witnessing
her venomous glare. “You didn’t ask for it on your list. So I didn’t buy
it for you. Leave it.” She held out her hand. I set the granola bar in her
palm and was instantly freed from her crushing grasp. “Sorry,” I murmured
and rushed out of the house before there was more to be sorry
for.
“So… what happened when you got home?” Sara demanded in anticipation,
lowering the volume of the fast beat punk song when I entered
her red convertible coupe.
“Huh?” I responded, stil rubbing my wrist.
“Last night, when you go home,” Sara prompted impatiently.
“Not much realy - just the usual yeling.” I replied, downplaying the
drama that awaited me when I got home from practice yesterday. I decided
not to divulge more as I casualy rubbed my bruised arm. As
much as I loved Sara and knew she would do anything for me, there
were some things I thought best to save her from.
“So, just yeling, huh?” I knew she wasn’t completely buying it. I wasn’t
the best liar, but I was convincing enough.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, clasping my hands together, stil shaking from her
touch. I kept my eyes focused to the side, watching the trees fly by,
broken up by the oversized homes with their landscaped lawns, feeling
the crisp late September air whip against my flushed face.
“Lucky for you, I guess.” I could feel her looking at me, waiting for me
to confess.
Sara turned up the music, recognizing I wasn’t going to give her more,
and started yeling while thrusting her head to a British punk band.
We puled into the school parking lot, receiving the usual turning of
heads from the students and the shaking of the heads from the faculty.
Sara was oblivious, or at least acted like she could care less. I ignored
it, because I realy could care less. I slung my backpack over my left
shoulder and walked across the parking lot with Sara. Her face
beamed with an infectious smile as people waved to her from across
the parking lot. I was barely noticed, but I wasn’t bothered by the lack
of recognition. It was easy to be overshadowed by Sara’s charismatic
presence with her mane of gorgeous fiery hair that flowed in layers to
the middle of her back.
Sara was every high school boy’s fantasy, and I’m sure some of the
male teachers’ as wel. She was startlingly attractive and had the body
of a swimsuit model, filed out in just the right places. But what I loved
about Sara was that she was real. She may have been the most desired
girl in school, but it didn’t go to her head.
“Good morning, Sara” could be heard from just about everyone we
passed as she walked with a bounce of energy through the junior hals.
She’d return these welcomes with a smile and a similar greeting.
There were some greetings thrown my way as wel, to which I would respond
with a quick glance and a nod of my head. I knew the only reason
they even acknowledged me was because of Sara. I actualy wished I
wasn’t noticed at al as I slunk through the hals in Sara’s shadow.
“I think Jason’s finaly coming around to realizing I exist,” Sara declared
while we gathered what we needed for our first class from our
adjacent lockers. By some miracle, we were in the same homeroom together,
making us practicaly inseparable. Wel, that was until our first
class when I headed to Advanced Placement English and she was off to
Algebra II.
“Everyone knows you exist, Sara,” I responded with a wry smile. Some
too wel, I thought, holding my smile.
“Wel, it’s different with him. He barely looks at me, even when I sit
right next to him. It’s so frustrating.” She colapsed back against her
locker. “You realize guys notice you too,” she added picking up on my
emphasis, “but you can’t look up from your books long enough to notice
them.”
My face turned red and I looked at her with a questioning scowl.
“What are you talking about? They only notice me because I’m with
you.”
Sara laughed, her perfect white teeth gleaming. “You have no idea,”
she scoffed, stil smiling in amusement.
“Enough. It doesn’t matter anyway,” I replied dismissively, my face stil
hot. “What are you going to do about Jason?”
Sara sighed, holding her books to her chest while running her blue
eyes along the ceiling as she looked distant, lost in thought.
“I’m not sure yet,” she said from that far off place that kept the corners
of her mouth curled up. It was evident she was picturing him and his
swept back blond hair, intense blue eyes, and dropdead smile. Jason
was the captain and quarterback of the footbal team. Could it get any
more cliché?
“What do you mean? You always have a plan.”
“This one’s different. He doesn’t even look at me. I have to be more
careful.”
“I thought you said he finaly noticed you?” I asked, confused. Sara
turned her head to look at me, her eyes stil sparkling from that place
she was slowly returning from, but the smile was lost.
“I don’t get it realy. I made sure to sit next to him in business class yesterday,
and he said ‘hi’, but that was it. So he knows I exist. Period.” I
could hear the exasperation in her voice.
“I’m sure you’l think of something. Or maybe he’s gay.” I smirked.
“Emma!” Sara exclaimed with wide eyes, punching my right arm. I
forced a smile while gritting my teeth, hoping she hadn’t noticed my
shoulders tense with the impact of her harmless blow.
“Don’t say that. That would be devastating - for me at least.”
“Not for Kevin Bartlett.” I laughed, causing her to scowl. To see Sara
so distracted by this guy was amusing and disarming at the same time.
She had a way with people - the results almost always ended in her favor,
especialy with guys. It didn’t matter who she was trying to persuade,
she would put an endearing spin on what she wanted so that
the person was actualy eager to accommodate her.
Sara was obviously flustered by Jason Stark. It was a side of her I almost
never saw. I knew this was new territory for her, and I was interested
to see what she was going to do next. The only other people who
have given her a greater chalenge have been my aunt and uncle. I kept
assuring her that it had nothing to do with her, but it only made her
more determined to win them over. In doing so, she hoped to make
my personal hel a little more livable. Who was I to stand in her way?
Even though I knew it was a lost cause.
We parted after homeroom. I entered A.P. English and sat in the back
of the room as usual. Ms. Abbott greeted us and began the class by
handing back our most recent papers.
She approached my desk and greeted me with a warm smile.
“Very insightful, Emma,” she praised as she handed me my paper. My
eyes met hers with a quick, yet awkward, smile. “Thank you.”
The paper was marked in red pen with an “A” at the top. There were
additional positive comments written in the margins throughout the
paper. It was what I anticipated and what my peers expected of me.
Most of the other students were leaning over to see what the person
sitting next to them received in comparison to their own marks. No
one looked at my paper. I tucked it into the back of my binder.
I wasn’t embarrassed by my grades or what other students thought of
my high marks. I knew I earned them. And I also knew that they were
going to save me someday. What no one understood, besides Sara, was
that al I realy cared about were the days I counted down until I moved
out of my aunt and uncle’s house to go to colege. So if I had to put up
with the whispers behind my back as I received the highest marks in
the class, then so be it. They weren’t going to be there to save me if I
I was going to get to any semblance of the high
school experience, and she definitely kept it entertaining. She was admired
by most, envied by many, and could discretely seduce a guy with
a grin. What mattered most to me was that I trusted her with my life -
which was saying a lot, considering the unpredictability that awaited
me at home each night.
“How’s it going?” Sara asked when we met at our lockers before lunch.
“Nothing new and exciting here. Any progress in Business class with
Jason?” This was Sara’s class right before lunch, so it usualy gave her
enough to talk about until we reached Journalism after.
“I wish!” she exclaimed in annoyance. “Nothing – it’s so frustrating!
I’m not being overly aggressive, but I am definitely putting the obvious
signals out there that I’m interested.”
“You don’t have what it takes to make him interested,” I teased with a
grin.
“Shut up, Em!” Sara looked at me with stern eyes. “I think I’m going to
have to be more direct. The worst he can say is -”
“I’m gay,” I interrupted and laughed.
“Laugh al you want, but I am going to get Jason Stark to go out with
me.”
“I know you wil,” I assured her, stil smiling.
I purchased lunch with my weekly stipend from the money I earned
during the summer – money that was strictly regulated without alowing
me direct access. Just another irrational rule I had to live with for
the next six hundred and seventy-three days. We decided to have
lunch outside at the picnic tables to take advantage of the Indian summer
day. Fal in New England was very unpredictable. It could be
frosty and cold one day, and the next would be warm enough to pul
out the tank tops. But once winter hit, it stuck around for longer than
it was welcome. As most of the other students were shedding clothes
to take advantage of the warmth, I could only push up the sleeves of
my shirt. In contrast, my wardrobe revolved around the colors of the
healing bruises on my arms, and had nothing to do with the
temperature.
“What did you do to your hair today? It looks good. It looks straighter.
Very chic.”
I looked at Sara sideways as we headed outside, knowing the only
reason my hair was in the ponytail was because I ran out of my alowed
five minutes in the shower this morning, and didn’t get to rinse the
conditioner out of my hair before the water was turned off.
“What are you talking about?” I asked incredulously.
“Forget it. You can never take a compliment.” Changing the subject,
she asked, “So wil you be able to go to the footbal game tomorrow
night?”
I just looked over at her with my eyebrows raised, taking a bite out of
an apple.
Realizing I wasn’t going to answer the obvious, Sara picked up her
soda, stopping with the can raised to her lips.
“Why is he torturing me?!” Sara whispered, slowly lowering the can
with her eyes fixated on something behind me. I turned to see what
had captured her attention. Jason Stark and another wel-built senior
had their shirts off, tucked into the backs of their pants, and were
throwing a football back and forth. The attention he captured was
painstakingly obvious. I watched him for a minute as Sara moaned behind
me. Oddly, he seemed oblivious to al of the girls drooling over
him – interesting.
“Sara, maybe he doesn’t realize he’s as wanted as he is,” I observed objectively.
“Have you ever thought of that?”
“How could he not know?” she questioned in disbelief.
“He’s a guy,” I said with a resigned sigh. “Have you ever seen him out
with anyone other than the two years he was dating Holy Martin? Just
because we think he’s a god, it doesn’t mean he puts himself on the
same pedestal.”
We looked over at the tal figure with the defined muscles and playful
smile. Even I couldn’t help but get lost in the details of his tanned
body. Just because I was focused on school, it didn’t mean I was dead.
I stil noticed - wel, sometimes.
“Maybe,” she considered with a devious smirk.
“You guys would make an amazingly beautiful couple,” I sighed.
“Em, you have to go to the game with me tomorrow!” she pleaded with
an edge of desperation.
I shrugged. It wasn’t like it was my choice. I had no control over my
social life; hence, I had no social life. I was holding out for colege. It’s
not like I wasn’t participating in the high school experience. I just had
my own version - three varsity sports, editor of the school paper, along
with participating in the yearbook, art and French clubs. It was
enough to keep me after school every day, and sometimes into the
evenings when I had games or deadlines with the paper. I needed to
create the ideal transcript for a scholarship admission. It was the only
thing I felt like I had control over, and it was honestly more of a survival
plan than an escape plan.
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